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The FBI might have been denied a brilliant forensic scientist if not for Washington's College Bound Scholarship program.
Star Preston, the youngest of 11 children, graduated with a 4.0 grade point average from Woodland High School last spring. She excels in biology and has dreamed of a career in forensics since she was a high school freshman. But her parents' combined incomes don't bring in enough to pay for college tuition.
Thankfully, even before high school, Preston signed up for the College Bound program in an English class. "I had no idea what it was," she said of the scholarship program for low-income Washington students. "There's everything to gain and nothing to lose by signing up."
Now she's one of 44 Washington State University Vancouver students who receive the scholarships. She's the first in her family to attend college.
"Without this scholarship, it would have been a stretch to afford community college," said Preston, who was the valedictorian of her graduating class.
In spring 2012, the first year of the program, there was a nearly 19 percent jump in graduation rates between Washington's College Bound Scholarship students and other low-income students not enrolled in the program.
This new data, compiled by the state's Education Research & Data Center, suggest a connection between state-sponsored scholarship programs and student achievement. More than 78 percent of low-income students enrolled in the program graduated on time last spring. The College Bound Scholarship students also graduated at rates above the state average and near the rates of students who are not low income.
Washington's 2012 high school graduates included more than 10,000 of the state's first College Bound Scholarship Program seniors, representing more than 17 percent of the state's entire graduating class.
How it works
Established by the state Legislature in 2007, the scholarship program offers financial aid for students meeting eligibility requirements that include having a household income at or below 65 percent of the state's median family income, earning satisfactory grades in high school and graduating on time.
You're supposed to apply no later than the end of eighth grade. The idea is, you've set yourself an incentive to do well throughout high school -- your reward is tuition money in the end.
Students can receive up to $4,467 annually to attend technical or community college and up to $11,904 at a research institution. The colleges combine the State Need Grant and College Bound Scholarship to ensure students obtain the optimum level of funding.
Students must submit a completed application to the Washington Student Achievement Council by the June 30 deadline of their eighth-grade year. The application is available online at wsac.wa.gov.
College Bound students pledge to graduate from high school with a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.0, not be convicted of a felony and apply for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in their senior year of high school. They must enter college within a year of graduating from high school, said Karen Driscoll, director of financial aid at Clark College.
The Washington Student Achievement Council worked with the K-12 system, state agencies, non-profit organizations and college access groups to enroll eligible students. So far, 134,000 students have submitted applications.
In the program, students can receive four years of full-time funding. Clark College has $1.7 million in reserves to assist the 390 eligible College Bound students this school year, said Driscoll. The reserve is a combination of funds from the State Need Grant account and the College Bound account.
Tabitha Wojciechowski, 18, was inspired by her second-grade teacher to become an elementary school teacher. A 2012 Skyview High School graduate, Wojciechowski is pursuing her dream at Clark College. She plans to earn her associate's degree at Clark, then transfer to WSU Vancouver to get her master's in teaching.
Both of her parents attended college, but neither completed a degree. One of her older brothers served in the Navy, and now attends Clark College with her.
Without the College Bound scholarship, she says, "I would have had to work for a few years before I could go to college."
Her family receives food stamps, and she had free lunches at school. She works about 12 hours a week at Fred Meyer.
"I encourage kids to apply for the College Bound program," Wojciechowski said. "You have to keep up your grades and learn to manage your time to be successful."
For Maria Salguero, 18, the College Bound program is all in the family. Although her parents didn't attend college, she and all of her siblings are planning on college. Now in her first year at Clark College, Salguero graduated from Columbia High School in White Salmon last spring. Her younger sister, a high school junior, signed up for College Bound when she was in middle school. Her seventh-grade brother will sign up this year.
"Our school district encourages everyone who's eligible for College Bound to sign up," Salguero said.
Salguero is considering business management and plans to transfer to WSU Vancouver.
"Take advantage of this opportunity," she said. "You have nothing to lose. Sometime in life you might regret not signing up."
Reuben Santoyo-Mendez, 18, a senior at Mountain View High School, is the son of a Mexican immigrant who didn't complete a college degree. Thanks to College Bound, he's heading to Western Washington University next fall to study computer science.
"My father immigrated here from Mexico and couldn't speak English for a long time," said Santoyo-Mendez. "He wanted me to get an education."
Without the scholarship, Santoyo-Mendez said he would have been able to attend college, "but I would have had to take out a massive amount of loans."
His parents and one of his teachers encouraged him to apply for the College Bound scholarship.
"I wasn't entirely thinking about college back then, but my parents wanted me to have options," Santoyo-Mendez said.
"Regardless of whether they go or not, people's minds change from seventh grade to 12th grade," he said. "Absolutely apply for the College Bound scholarship."