Higher education must be more accessible and affordable

Higher education must be more accessible and affordable

John Bassett
Heritage University president.
Posted on April 13, 2014

Along with my fellow presidents from the Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW), and our public colleagues, I applaud the legislature’s support for the higher education goals proposed by the Student Achievement Council. In its 2013 Roadmap Report, the WSAC set two statewide goals to be achieved by 2023:

1) All adults in Washington, ages 25-44, will have a high school diploma or equivalent; and

2) At least 70 percent of Washington adults, ages 25-44, will have a postsecondary credential.

While Washington excels at importing talent from outside the state, it must improve its college-going rate among its own population. At this time we rank 38th in the country in college-going, and Yakima County is one of the two lowest counties in the state for college attendance. Without major change, only 19 percent of our current ninth-graders will ever receive even an associate’s degree. In our Lower Valley only 6 percent have a bachelor’s degree (in Appalachia that figure is 12 percent; in America, 30 percent). In Yakima County, between a quarter and a half of our children are out of the school system before 12th grade. Clearly we all have work to do.

As the Yakima Herald-Republic showed in a recent editorial, the new College Bound program is already helping to overcome this deficit. College Bound students are graduating at a rate one-third higher than other low-income students. On the other hand, state funding for low-income students remains inadequate to the challenge.

While the total number of students served by State Needs Grants grew by 5.6 percent between 2007 and 2013 the total population of students in need increased by 48.5 percent over the same period. In Washington, last year, some 32,443 low-income students eligible for state need-based scholarships were left without such funding; 1,881 of those were in Yakima County (33 percent of those eligible.)

Students without State Needs Grants are less likely to attend college full-time and for the entire academic year and also less likely to persist and re-enroll the following year. To maximize the potential of our bright young people and of the state economy, we all need to work to excite our youth about going to college and then to help them finance that education.

Along with the six public universities and the community colleges, Heritage University and the Independent Colleges of Washington are committed to work with our local education partners to improve student engagement, student performance, and student success particularly here in the Yakima Valley.

We hope our partners in Olympia in the legislature will find a way in the next budget cycle to make funds available for every ambitious student to attend college and become a key player in our economy and society.

John Bassett has been president of Heritage University in Toppenish since July 2010.