Public Policy

Independent Colleges of Washington represents 10 private, non-profit colleges and universities in public policy matters and encourages legislation at the state and federal levels that supports students and recognizes independent colleges and universities as vital partners in higher education.

ICW’s public policy agenda includes state and federal higher education policy. It centers on creating a higher education network that ensures students can attend the high-quality college that best serves their interests, needs, and aspirations.

Facts About ICW Members Colleges

Independent Colleges provide educational opportunity, choice, and success for students.

This is accomplished by:

    • Making resources available to students
    • Advocating for public policy that supports students
    • Building strategic collaborations
    • Telling the compelling story of independent higher education

ICW colleges share a commitment to high quality academically rigorous learning with emphasis on:

    • Critical thinking
    • Lifelong learning
    • Ethics
    • Leadership
    • Community service

ICW is a nonprofit membership organization of 10 liberal arts based colleges and universities in Washington:

Gonzaga University, Heritage University, Pacific Lutheran University,
Saint Martin’s University, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University, University of Puget Sound, Walla Walla University, Whitman College, Whitworth University

ICW 10 Member Colleges:

  • Enroll nearly 40,000 students each year from all 39 Washington counties, all 50 states, and 90 countries
  • Confer one-in-five of Washington’s baccalaureate and advanced degrees
  • Students receive 2% of the higher education budget, all through financial aid
  • Return significant value to the public’s investment in students through State Need Grants
  • Have capacity to grow by 20% over the next eight years (4,000 students)
  • Match every $1 in state support, all in student aid, by over $14 in grant aid
  • Provide nearly $380 million in grants to students, opening the door of opportunity to students regardless of background
  • Employ over 7,000 faculty and staff and generate over $2 billion annually in state and local economic activity
  • Recognized in top five best graduation rates of all sectors in the country with 82% of students starting at our colleges graduating within six years
State Need Grant Funding Imperative

The Student Aid Alliance is a collaboration of Student Associations, higher education partners, businesses, and concerned nonprofits, that support full funding for the State Need Grant program, including increased funding for the State Need Grant program in the 2017 legislative session to serve more students who are eligible for the grant but do not receive it because of lack of funding.


The State Need Grant (SNG) program was established in 1969 to lower financial barriers to a college education for low- and middle-income Washington residents.  Currently grants cover approximately 96% of the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities and 25% of the cost of tuition at private colleges. A student is eligible to receive a grant if their family income is below 70% of the state’s median family income ($59,500 for a family of four). The program annually serves about 72,000 students.

The program’s broad reach allows students to study at 67 institutions, from private career schools to research universities, opening opportunities for students wherever and however they enter postsecondary education and training – from a traditional student going to college immediately after high school graduation, to a returning adult student who wants to get a credential to boost their earning potential in the labor market.

Unfortunately, since 2007, the program has been increasingly underfunded in the state budget; last year more than 24,000 enrolled students (about 26% of eligible students) did not receive a grant because of underfunding.

The funding gap to serve all eligible students is approximately $100 million per year.

Why Fund the State Need Grant Program?

Higher education makes a significant and life altering difference in a student’s life.  For those students with financial need, receiving a grant is often the difference between attending college, earning their degree, and achieving their dreams or dropping out of school.  Eligible unserved students:

  • Have higher average debt loads than their served peers.
  • Tend to take fewer credits, which slows their progress and reduces the chances of completion.

State Need Grant is also a significant source of financial support for facilitating postsecondary participation among currently underserved students, including first-generation college students, veterans, students of color, and older students.

Funding the State Need Grant is vital to Washington’s future!

Our growing economy is demanding a more educated workforce.  Jobs in Washington are projected to grow to over 4 million in 2023, a 19% increase over ten years. A recent study suggests there will be some 740,000 openings between now and 2021.

At least 70% of jobs in 2020 are projected to require postsecondary education; 51% of Washington adults currently have any postsecondary education and only 31% of Washington high school students go on to earn a postsecondary credential; we need 70% to go on to earn a postsecondary credential to meet job opportunity demands.

Washington’s high school graduates of color are projected to nearly double by 2028. These students are less likely to pursue, attend, or complete their postsecondary education without additional resources.

Higher education completely changes the trajectory and prosperity of a student’s life. 

The combination of greater workforce need and increase in populations underrepresented in higher education makes full funding for the State Need Grant Program an absolute requirement. It is right for our economy, and for social justice!

2017 Legislative Session Priorities

ICW did not ask for any additional funding in the 2016 supplemental for student financial aid.  Instead, we worked with legislators to help them fully understand the critical role financial aid plays in ensuring opportunity to attend and stay in college for low income students.

This session ICW encourages our elected leaders to work together to build on last session’s accomplishments and finish funding the remaining portions of basic education.  At the same time, ICW believes that enhancements in higher education opportunities for all students, regardless of their economic ability must be funded and we have joined our higher education partners in a joint request to accomplish this in the 2017 session.

ICW is also a founding partner in a broad-based alliance that is requesting the legislature to fully fund the State Need Grant (SNG) program so that that the 25,000 students who are eligible but do not currently receive a grant under the program can receive the funding they so desperately need and deserve through the program.


ICW’s 2017 Legislative Session Goals:
  1. Full funding for the State Need Grant program so that eligible but unserved students receive awards through the program in the future.
  2. Expand the State Work Study Program to serve an additional 3,000 students.
  1. Full funding for the College Bound Scholarship program so the promise to students in the program is continued without affecting State Need Grant eligible students.
  1. Funding in the State Need Grant to ensure that award levels for students attending ICW member colleges are the same as award levels for students attending the State’s research universities.

Background on ICW’s State Need Grant Policy and Budget Objectives

Goal: Fully fund the SNG Program and return to ICW member college student award equity

Over 24,000— over one in four—eligible students did not receive a grant in 2016 due to lack of funding. Research shows that students who receive grants are more likely to earn a credential than otherwise-similar students and this financial aid allows students to focus on their studies, rather than attending only one or two courses and working too many hours or accumulating too much debt.

The state must fund its stated policy to meet the promise to these students through this program. For example, increasing funding for the State Need Grant program by $19 Million would serve an additional 4,500 low-income students. The total funding gap is about $100 Million.

At the same time, equity for our students in the State Need Grant program must be restored.  Until 2011, ICW member college SNG students were eligible to receive awards equal to those provided to students attending public research universities. After 2011, an inequity was created through the state budget that has resulted in ICW college students receiving almost $2,400 less per year from 2012-2015.

The tuition reductions made through the 2015-2017 biennial budget reduced this inequity by holding award level for students attending ICW member colleges constant while reducing award levels at public colleges commensurate to tuition decreases but still leaves about an $850 gap (or about $950,000 per year). ICW believes it is time for the legislature to close this gap in the 2017 legislative session and return to the recent historical policy of equity even in recognition that in the past, the policy was to provide greater awards to students attending ICW member colleges based on the value proposition ICW member colleges provide to the state.

Prior to 2011-12, State Need Grant Awards Were Equal (or Higher) for
Low-Income Washington Students Who Chose a Private Colleges

For more information about ICW’s state policy efforts contact:

Tom Fitzsimmons
Vice President
Office: 206.623.4494
Cellular: 206.877.2491

Federal Public Policy

ICW works closely with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities on federal policy issues.

For more information about the policy issues:

We are also working on ways to make college more affordable.  Look here for some positive initiatives:

NAICU has the only source of federal aid by Congressional District.  Take a look at the Washington data sheets here:

For more information about our federal policy efforts please contact:

Violet Boyer
President and CEO
Office: 206.623.4494
Cellular: 206.714.2402

How You Can Help

  • Become an Advocate and sign up to receive Action Alerts. The center will keep you informed about issues before the legislature and about how you can make your voice heard on those issues.
  • Contact Legislators through the Action Center. During the 2011 session more than 2,000 messages were sent to legislators and the governor, helping ICW successfully make its case for student aid.
  • Become our friend:TwitterFacebook  
  • Encourage others, including students, friends, and colleagues to support student aid. Widely share college updates, student profiles, and legislative alerts.
  • Need help applying for financial aid? That’s just a part of the useful information available on

External Resources

UCAN Network
provides vital information about private colleges in the country. To see ICW members links go to

The Student Aid Alliance is a coalition of associations who support federal funding for strong student aid programs.

ICW works closely with the National Association of State Executives and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) to formulate and advocate for supportive higher education public policy.