White Papers: Implement an “Automatic Opt-In” for the College Bound Scholarship

Since 2007, over 300,000 low-income middle school students have applied for the College Bound Scholarship, which provides financial aid that covers the cost of tuition at public rates, fees, and books.

The scholarship not only makes the dream of college a reality for thousands of kids for whom it might not otherwise be available, but it also significantly increases high school graduation rates. Three-quarters of the students who signed up for the College Bound Scholarship by the end of their 8th grade year in 2011 graduated from high school in 2015, as compared to the 62 percent of students who graduate who did not sign up for the scholarship. 

Yet, due to existing barriers in the application, the state sign-up rate is only 72 percent, meaning thousands of students who meet eligibility requirements neither apply for nor receive these scholarships.

These barriers include signature requirements, language barriers for students for who English is not their first or home language (17 percent of the Tacoma Public School student population), and the complexities of the college admissions process for first-generation college going students.

For over ten years, the Tacoma College Support Network (TCSN), a collaborative action network of community-based organization staffers, school district employees, state agency representatives and passionate community members, has collectively worked to increase College Bound Scholarship sign ups in the Tacoma-Pierce County region. 

Over the past three years, the TCSN has helped drive a College Bound Scholarship sign-up rate of 92 percent of the roughly 2,500 eligible middle school students in Tacoma Public Schools (TPS). 

This is phenomenal progress. Yet 100 percent sign-up remains the goal. 

Each year, over 100 eligible TPS students do not get a parental signature submitted and miss this valuable opportunity.

In the 2019-20, only approximately 62 percent of eligible TPS students signed up for the scholarship, even with the extended sign-up period due to COVID.

For this year’s current eighth graders, sign-up rates are almost 10 percentage points below where they were at this time last year, even with dedicated teams focusing on promoting sign-ups at each middle school.

Eliminating unnecessary barriers to receiving the scholarship will put more low-income students not only on a path to complete high school but to attend college as well.

Creating an automatic opt-in for middle school students who qualify for the College Bound Scholarship will ensure that more low-income students receive the financial aid that can make the goal of college a reality.

Effective advocacy by the Tacoma-Pierce County community prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to issue an Executive Order creating a temporary opt-in for the College Bound Scholarship, but legislative action in the 2021 session is needed to ensure that this path to college for students from low-income families becomes permanent state policy.