The Seattle Promise: Free College Tuition

Jenny’s Affordable Seattle Agenda

Free College for Seattle’s Public High School Graduates


Reduce the barriers for Seattle public high school graduates by providing free tuition to Washington State community and technical colleges. This investment will help students complete a certificate, credential, or two-year degree with labor market value or make significant progress toward a Bachelor’s degree.

Initial Proposal

Provide up to two years of free college tuition for Seattle public high school graduates to attend a public community or technical college of their choice in Washington State.


Each year, one in four Seattle Public School graduates do not pursue a continuing education pathway, and among low-income and students of color, this number increases to one in three. The lack of opportunity is detrimental to both their earnings potential and their overall ability to succeed in the workplace.

A recent study shows that the Washington state alone is expected to grow job openings by more than 740,000 in the next five years. Those jobs need to be filled with people with post-secondary education degrees. But today only 31% of Washington high school students go on to earn a credential (degree or certificate). We need to help Seattle graduates get those jobs.



Far too many of these graduates who opt not to enroll in any form of post-high school education are students of color and from low-income families. And Seattle’s rising cost of living is making the challenge of college affordability even worse. The Seattle Promise scholarship will help these and other students with free tuition and services to achieve degrees or certificates without taking on student loan debt.

Overall Concept

The Seattle Promise scholarship will provide tuition (15 credits for 6 quarters) for students that graduate from Seattle public schools. Students will benefit from support staff and services to counsel and advise them in their transition to college and during their two years as part of the Seattle Promise program. South Seattle College has been implementing the 13th Year Promise Scholarship program for more than 7 years with promising results. Learning and modeling from their experience, national programs, and other programs in Washington’s Community and Technical College system, Seattle Promise will expand this program to all public high school graduates throughout the city and provide tuition up to 90 credits.


The focus of this program is to increase access to college and to focus on the completion of a degree, credential, or certificate that increases earning power. Like the 13th Year program and elements of the Guided Pathways effort, Seattle Promise places staff at each of the Seattle colleges to work with local high school students and counselors, including a potential college readiness academy or student success program at each college. Support services will begin in high school and if the student chooses a Seattle College – services will be provided there. Seattle Promise dollars will be for ‘last dollar’ assistance for all Seattle Public School graduates, being used after all other federal or state funds (Pell, State Need, or College Bound) are awarded. In addition to city funds supporting the cost of tuition, a private philanthropic fund will be created to provide a stipend to Seattle Promise students to cover the cost of books, course fees and public transportation for students.


Graduates from all Seattle Public High Schools, including undocumented students, will be eligible beginning in fall 2018. Students may enroll part-time or full time and receive benefits for up to 90 credits. Because the Promise scholarship is focused on credential or degree completion, students are eligible for two years after their graduation from high school.


Initial year budget: $4.3 million, then $7 million per year (without inflation).

  • $2.8 million in the first year to fund the tuition and $5.6 million in the second year.
  • $1.5 million per year for staff enhancements for counseling, advising, scholarship and grant support, course management and sequencing, time management, tutoring, peer mentoring, study skills, early intervention by advisors, computer and library support, open access books, and other services to support students.
  • Potential funding sources include the 2018 Families & Education Levy, sweetened beverage tax revenues or the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account created by Sound Transit 3.

 — Jenny Durkan


Note: This is based off the estimate of serving approximately 25% of the 2900 high school graduates in Seattle. $2.82 million estimate assumes an average tuition support of approximately $3,900 per student and will require adjustment based on tuition increases of approximately 2% year-over-­year. This estimate does not include any assumptions about state or federal funding provided to students in the form of financial aid and does not include private philanthropy that can help with books, course fees, and other support services.