Washington College Grant

Landmark legislation provides eligible students free or lower-cost college rates 

What is the Washington College Grant?

The Washington College Grant is the new financial aid program that will replace the State Need Grant under a bill passed by the Legislature during the 2019 legislative session (HB 2158). Most of the significant changes will take effect in fall of 2020.

Why is the Washington College Grant a Big Deal?

Simply put, the new Washington College Grant throws open the door to higher education so more people in Washington state can pursue their dreams of a college education and a better life.

In fall 2020, the Washington College Grant will:

  • Provide guaranteed funding for all eligible students — no more wait lists.
  • Extend financial aid to more middle-income families. As incomes go up, the award amounts go down.
    • A family of four making $50,500 or less will receive a full financial-aid award that covers the full cost of tuition plus state-mandated fees. For fall 2019, the threshold for a full financial aid award is $46,000.¹
    • Middle-income families of four will be able to earn about $92,000 and still get some level of aid (i.e. a partial award). For fall 2019, the top income limit for a partial award is $64,000.²

The Washington College Grant also preserves all the flexible ways financial aid can be used in Washington state so students can pursue the path that fits them best — whether it means a certificate, two-year degree, four-year degree or an apprenticeship.

Is this “Free College”?

Not in the sense that everybody in Washington will get to attend college for free. Rather, it means that financial aid will cover the full cost of tuition and state-mandated fees for a family of four that makes $50,500 or less. 

When Does the Washington College Grant Take Effect?

The most significant changes will take effect in fall 2020.

Fall 2019

  • The program name will officially change from “State Need Grant” to “Washington College Grant.” The Washington Student Achievement Council, which administers financial aid programs, offers this advice:

WSAC will start using the new name in public facing information (e.g. ReadySetGrad.org) for 2019-20, but will do so in combination with State Need Grant. For example, the “Washington College Grant, previously the State Need Grant” or “Washington College Grant/State Need Grant. Institutions may use “Washington College Grant” for 2019-20, but it is not a requirement since most institutions have been actively awarding and publishing information for some time. We ask that 2020-21 student facing communication refer to the program as the “Washington College Grant.”

  • The program will serve 6,000 more students. 

Fall 2020

This is when the changes take effect.

  • Funding is guaranteed for all eligible students. All eligible students will be served.
  • Eligibility is extended to more middle-income families.

What are the Differences Between the State Need Grant and the Washington College Grant?

  State Need Grant Washington College Grant
Covers long-term certificates Yes Yes
Covers short-term certificates No No
Covers 2-year degrees Yes Yes
Covers 4-year degrees, including
BAS (applied) bachelor's degrees
Yes Yes
All eligible students receive state
financial aid
No - the State Need Grant has been underfunded for years. In the 2017-18 school year, 20,769 students were unserved overall and of those, 10,592 at community and technical colleges.4  Yes - financial aid will become a guarantee beginning fall 2020. And, financial aid is extended to middle-income families — in other words, families can earn more income and still receive some level of financial aid.
Middle-income families are eligible  Right now, the top income limit for a family of four to receive some level of financial aid is $64,000 for fall 2019 (70% of the median family income).5  In fall 2020, the top income limit for a family of four to receive some level of financial aid will be $92,000 (100% of the median family income.)6
Can be used at private colleges and universities Yes  Yes 
Is a "first-in" financial aid program* Yes  Yes 

* With “first in” financial aid programs, students can receive a full award even if they receive funds from other sources, like the federal Federal Pell Grant. In comparison, “last in” grants only fill gaps left by other financial aid programs. With “first in” financial aid, students can receive a greater total sum of financial aid to better cover college costs beyond tuition — books, transportation and child care, for example.

How Will the Washington College Grant Help Middle-Income Families?

In a nutshell, families can make more money and still qualify for financial aid.7 

Median Family Income (MFI) Range

under current State Need Grant (SNG) 
under Washington College Grant (new thresholds take effect fall 2020)

Percentage of Maximum Grant

The 100% (maximum) award fully covers the cost of tuition + state-mandated fees.

0-50% of MFI (SNG)

0-55% of MFI

100% award

100% award

51-55% of MFI (SNG)

56-60% of MFI

70% award

70% award

56-60% of MFI (SNG)

61-65% of MFI

60% award

50% award

61-65% of MFI (SNG)

66-70% of MFI

60% award

50% award

66-70% of MFI (70% is the top income threshold for the SNG)

71-75% of MFI

50% award

24.5% award

76-100% 10% award

Who Determines the “Median Family Income,” and What is it Now?

Before each academic year, the Washington Student Achievement Council determines the median family income for financial aid purposes. It then sends financial aid officers a table of income thresholds and award amounts. Your financial aid officers already have those tables for the 2019-20 school year.

What is the Workforce Education Investment Act?

The Washington College Grant is part of a much broader law — called the “Workforce Education Investment Act — that was signed into law in May 2019 (HB 2158). The beauty of the Workforce Investment Act is that it funds both sides of the equation: affordability for students through the Washington College Grant, coupled with foundational support for the colleges and universities that serve them. And, it also invests in student support services, like advising, to make sure students can not only enroll in college, but can succeed once they get there. This is key for all students, but especially for students who are first in their families to go to college, many of whom enroll in community and technical colleges. 

The Workforce Education Investment Act:
• Invests in student-support services, like academic advising, so students can succeed once they get to college. (For the community and technical college system, this investment was targeted for Guided Pathways.)

• Increases salaries for teaching faculty in in-demand fields, including nursing.

• Provides foundational support for the colleges and universities themselves so they can continue to offer students a high-quality education. (This is basically a simple way of saying that the Legislature provided funds to help colleges cover the shortfall between tuition revenues and their mandated 35 percent contribution to compensation costs.)

• Creates, for the first time in state history, a dedicated revenue source for higher education.

How is the Workforce Education Investment Act Funded?

HB 2158 raises the business and occupation tax from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent for businesses that rely heavily on workers with a post-secondary education, such as software engineers, accountants, doctors and architects. Large tech companies (aka, “advanced computing businesses”) could have a rate up to 2 percent, and giant tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft might pay up to 2.5 percent.



Source: Information collected by the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, May 2019.


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