Washington is offering more college aid than ever, plus new admission guarantees. Will students buy in?

Last month, the Legislature passed a bill that took lessons from Seattle Promise. That program, which sent 1,100 young people to college last fall, has staffers embedded in high schools, “and their only job is to get people to sign up,” noted state Rep. Drew Hansen, a Democrat from Bainbridge Island.

House Bill 1835, which Hansen sponsored, instructs the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to put outreach workers in high schools located in parts of the state with the lowest rates of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. These outreach workers will encourage more students to fill out this application, and also the state version for students who can’t fill out the FAFSA due to their immigration status.

Many students can’t attend college if they don’t get financial aid. Yet, Washington ranked 48th among states nationwide in the share of high school seniors who completed the FAFSA as of July last year, with 46% having done so. Even fewer students are on track to complete the application this year.

The potential benefits have never been better. Legislators this year made the state’s already generous financial aid program, the Washington College Grant, even more so.

They raised the income threshold to qualify for free tuition from 55% to 60% of the median for families (meaning a student in a family of four earning $64,500 a year wouldn’t have to pay for college), and also stipulated that qualifying students would get $500 a year for books and supplies. Partial tuition scholarships are available to students whose families earn up to the median income, or $107,000 for a family of four.