Valdes, Associated Press, March 31, 2008
Teresa Jackson is raising three grandchildren by herself on a
fixed income, and saving money for their college education is
But now Washington state is stepping in to help low-income
students like Jackson's grandchildren go to college.
A new scholarship for low-income middle school students comes
with a promise that if grades are kept up through high school -
at least 2.0 - the state will pay for college. Kids need to keep
out of trouble with the law, too - no felonies.
"This is my only opportunity," said Jackson, who at 61 is taking
care of two teenagers and a third child in elementary school
after their mothers - Jackson's daughters - developed
"We just barely make enough to survive. And saving up for
college is impossible. It's a burden off my shoulders," Jackson
The College Bound scholarship is part of a recent string of
initiatives by the state and universities trying to usher
low-income students to a college education.
Christened "College Bound" by legislators, the state began
rolling out registration for the scholarship this year. The only
stipulation is students need to be under the free-or-reduced
lunch program. The deadline to enroll is June 1 for eighth
Students who enroll must continue to meet low-income criteria
when they apply for college admission.
Around 3,200 students have registered so far out of the possible
56,000 seventh and eighth graders eligible statewide.
But just as kids need to keep their grades up, lawmakers will
have to keep funding the scholarship, even as looming state
deficits forced lawmakers to do some budget trimming in the last
In 2007, $8.1 million was earmarked to launch the scholarship,
but the first class will not spend the money until 2013. After
that, lawmakers will have to find additional money.
"We've been through deficits before, we'll go through them
again, but one of our goals, one of our priorities is to provide
access to higher education," said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe,
D-Bothell, chairwoman of the state Senate's education committee.
The scholarship is based on a program launched in Indiana more
than 15 years ago that has proven to be successful in increasing
college enrollment. Oklahoma also launched has a similar
scholarship, and California lawmakers have drafted a measure as
well, according to the National Conference of State
The College Bound scholarship could attract thousands more
students to college in the future.
However, high school completion and college attendance rates
among low-income students rank at the bottom of all economic
groups in the state. This scholarship would try to change that.
"Part of working with kids in poverty is just giving them hope,"
said Harjeet Sandhu, principal at Tacoma's Jason Lee Middle
School, where more than 80 percent of students qualify for the
free-or-reduced lunch program.
Along with Jackson's granddaughter, Nikole, other kids at Jason
Lee are getting prepped by their teachers to start thinking
about college. An advisory program was set up this year so when
eighth graders choose classes for high school, they also know
the requirements to get into college. They visit colleges, too.
The state is estimated to spend more than $180 million to fund
need-based grants for the more than 72,000 low-income college
students in the 2007-2008 school year. The money provided in
College Bound would help supplement that, and students would get
the aid only for state schools.
Steve Thorndill, executive director of the Issaquah-based
College Success Foundation, an organization helping low-income
kids get to college, said College Bound is the best such
legislation he has seen. But Thorndill said if the number of
low-income students attending college increases, more funding
would be needed for the needs-based grants.
"I don't know how they can't continue it," Thorndill said. "It's
kind of a moral imperative to me."
There have been other efforts to help low-income students.
Washington State University and the University of Washington
have pledged to waive tuition for such students.
Around 5,500 students, representing 21.5 percent of the UW's
undergraduate student body, qualified under the "Husky Promise"
during the 2007-08 school year. At WSU, 18.1 percent of all new
undergraduates in fall 2007 are covered under the "Cougar
"I think the state and university are trying to send that same
message, that college is a possibility," said Kay Lewis, the
UW's financial aid director.
McAuliffe said now the state's job is to spread the word about
At Jason Lee, a handful of students enrolled now in the advisory
program showed off what they know about college. They know it
will be away from home. There will be clubs to join and lots of
classes to take. And they've heard their parents talk about
College "costs a lot of money," said Tevin G.Richmond, an eighth
grader at Jason Lee.
But now for Jackson and Principal Sandhu, helping the kids get
good grades for the next three years is the challenge.
"They need the support of the parents and the community, of some
grown-up, some way or another," Jackson said.
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