A statement that I consistently read and hear from others is, “travelling is the only thing that makes you richer.” I absolutely hate this statement. In my opinion, both travelling AND education are the only two things that make you richer and I actually think education makes you richer because it is an investment as well as an experience. As someone who loved their own college experience and has worked at two public universities in Washington State, and is currently working at private university in Washington, DC, I want students to be able to make this investment and have this experience in an accessible and affordable way.
I believe every person has one or two political issues that they care about the most compared to others. Maybe it’s economic policy? The military? Veteran rights? Disability rights? Abortion? Whatever the issue is, you care about it because you or your family member/friend has been affected by it in one way or another. If it was not noticeable already in my first paragraph, the issue that I care about the most is access to education, specifically higher education. Unfortunately, in this election cycle there has not been a lot of focus on access to higher education and how to improve the K-12 system both in the federal and state level. Although it is disappointing to not see a ton of policies from ALL presidential candidates regarding higher education, I do believe that if we (or at least I) want change to happen in regards to access and affordability to higher education that this change needs to come first from the state level.
This blog post is not endorsing any specific political candidate in the state of Washington, but to really get down to the nitty gritty details of what happened these past four years in regards to funding for education.
In 2015, a historic tuition cut happened in Washington State. The Washington State legislature voted in its 2015-2017 budget to cut four-year college tuition costs by 15 to 20 percent by 2016. YAY! WOO HOO! We can all rejoice right? Well if they were able to cut tuition costs, have you thought maybe something else might have suffered?
One of the public universities I was able to work for was Central Washington University I worked in their High School Partnerships Department. This department at CWU provides high school students in 11th and 12th grades with the opportunity to take classes on CWU’s campus. The Department also offers the “College in High School” program to high school students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grade.
If you do not know what College in the High School is, it is a program where students are able to take college courses from their high school teachers. The teachers are approved as adjunct faculty through a university and students do not have to leave their high school campus. The classes are offered at a discounted tuition rate of $55 or $65 dollars per credit, which is a steal for low income students, middle class students and students who fit in any socioeconomic category. Before 2016, any student who was in the 11th and 12th grades had the opportunity to take 15 credits worth of College in the High School classes per semester for free because the state covered the costs. Well, when the State Legislature created the 2015-2017 budget, a piece of legislation (House Bill 1546) passed and determined that the state would have limited funds (because of tuition decreases) to cover the College in the High School program for Washington State students. Additionally, school districts would need to apply to get funding for College in the High School and the funding would be given based on a tier system.
While working for CWU, I was given the opportunity to travel all over the state of Washington. In my visits, I met with a lot of high school teachers and administrators who spoke of the low income community they served and how College in the High School was an opportunity for students to be exposed to college for the first time. College in the High School was used as a segue for low income students to go to college after high school graduation. Many of these small towns that CWU served were not located near a community college, so these students didn’t have the option to take Running Start classes.
You say, ah but in House Bill 1546 high schools who are 20 miles more away from a community college will be awarded funding for College in the High School. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what was happening when I visited high schools. For example, Lacrosse High School in Lacrosse, WA was not awarded funding for a reason that is unknown. The Office for Superintendent for Public Instruction for some reason messed up and students had to pay the price for this mistake. For students at Lacrosse High School, the closest Running Start option for them would be Washington State University, which is 1 hour away. This is not a feasible option for students, who still want to take classes like band, choir or orchestra or need to make it back for sports practices or other commitments. Moreover, schools such as Fort Vancouver High School (which is a high school in Vancouver, WA) whose students are mostly in the free and reduced lunch program do not qualify for funding because of how close in proximity the high school is to colleges in the area. Clark Community College is 8 miles away and WSU Vancouver is 20 miles away. But since these students are low income, they do not have money for gas, books, a car and the extra added fees that Running Start funding does not cover.
Without College in the High School or Running Start being viable options for some students in Washington State, you might suggest AP classes as another option. But in order to receive college credit, AP classes require students to fully pass one test, whereas College in the High School courses require a grade of a C- or better in order for a student to receive credit. College in the High School classes are set up similarly to a high school class, where students are graded on their performance on quizzes, homework, in-class participation and a final. This set-up relieves pressure for students who have anxiety when taking standardized tests, like the AP test. I believe this set-up is better for students overall, especially for students who live in low income areas in the state. Not to mention, there usually is cost associated with taking an AP test, and I have never once heard of the state covering this cost.
Even with a 15 to 20 percent tuition cut to regular tuition costs, College in the High School can still save students (again from all socioeconomic backgrounds) more money in the long run, and allow students to have an early exposure to college without cutting out a high school experience. It is saddening and disheartening that because of one good thing (tuition cuts), another thing had to suffer (College in the High School). I am not sure that the possibility of both tuition cuts, and funding College in the High School can survive at the same time, without taking money from another place (i.e. transportation). But I believe funding for College in the High School is more important, because it can help students save more money in the long run, and provide an opportunity for early exposure to college level coursework. I encourage you to write to your Representatives and other Washington State politicians urging them to think about this. Additionally, if a new political candidate runs and notices these problems and provides a solution to them, I challenge you to go against the grain of salt and vote for this new candidate.
So while your focus might be on ‘Making America Great Again’ or being #WithHer, I want to remind you that state elections are also so important. While you are going through your ballot, you might check off a name that sounds good for a position that you might think does not matter, like the Office for Superintendent for Public Instruction, but I want you to think about how your vote might affect people who are not eligible to vote yet due to age, and people who live in different counties all across the state.
Now, read up on policies and candidates, go vote and don’t leave the back of your ballot blank!