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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Other Papers Say: Grant to smooth path to college

By The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
Published: April 8, 2024, 6:03am

The Puget Sound region has an unusually high population of workers with college degrees, most attracted by the tech industry.

When it comes to graduates of Washington’s high schools, though, the number of students who go on to college doesn’t reflect students’ desires or the economy’s needs.

Nearly 90 percent of high schoolers say they want to pursue a post-high school education, but only 50 percent enrolled in a post-secondary program after graduation in 2022, according to a study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation has charged itself with helping make post-secondary education obtainable for Washington students. Its newly announced Horizon grant is another step toward making sure all students who want to attend college, can.

The $19 million grant will be invested in four areas in Washington: the Seattle area, the Olympic Peninsula, and Southwest and Southeast Washington. The program, along with its partners, will focus on three issues: completion of the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid; equitable access to dual enrollment programs, where students can earn college credits while in high school; and help for students and families as they create plans for beyond high school.

If paying for college isn’t enough of a barrier, filling out the FAFSA to apply for financial assistance is another one. While a new and supposedly improved FAFSA is under way, the Horizon grant is designed to help guide students and families as they embark upon a post-high school path and break down some of those barriers.

“We do not give students navigation,” said Angela Jones, director of the Gates Foundation’s Washington State Initiative, referring to the general culture in Washington. “We put them on a freeway and we’re like, ‘Good luck. We don’t know where that road is going but you got this.’ ”

The Horizon grant will provide its partners with technical assistance and advising strategies to help students make academic and career choices while still in high school.

Nearly 62 percent of Washington’s high school students completed at least one dual-credit course in 2020. But fewer low-income students, English-language learners, and students who identify as Black, Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander took advantage of dual-credit opportunities compared to white students.

An additional benefit comes in supplying Washington businesses with more qualified workers. Seventy percent of the jobs in the state require advanced education or training beyond high school, according to Washington Roundtable.

The Horizon grant is not a panacea for every barrier to post-secondary education, but it helps amplify students’ and educators’ voices in coming up with practical solutions and provides some financial resources to make it possible.