South Seattle Community College: Students Given the Gift of Tuition-Free Education

Member Spotlight

Cheers erupted from more than 200 stunned Chief Sealth International High School seniors as they absorbed the news that a free year of college is in their future.  South Seattle Community College (South) President Gary Oertli caught the assembled Class of 2011 by surprise with his announcement that the college's 13th Year Promise Scholarship has been expanded to Chief Sealth.

The groundbreaking scholarship program, the first of its kind in Washington state, guarantees every graduating senior the opportunity to attend South tuition-free for one year, regardless of grade point, test scores, or other factors.   Chief Sealth becomes South's second 13th Year Promise Scholarship high school, joining Cleveland High School, where the program was launched with the Class of 2008.

"This is a phenomenal opportunity for our graduating seniors," said Chief Sealth Principal John Boyd. "Times are tough and a lot of our students live below the poverty line. The opportunity to have their first year of college paid for is a tremendous gift for our students and their families."

Senior Matt Miguel immediately dialed his dad to share the news.

"Hey, dad, guess what? I'm going to college!"

His grin said it all as he explained, "I'll be the first in my family to go to college. And money is just a really big problem for that. I currently have a job, but it's not going to be enough."

The scholarship program is funded by financial aid and scholarship funds raised through the South Seattle Community College Foundation. Members of the Foundation Board took the initiative in creating the program after learning about the critical tipping point: the enormous difference just one year of training and a technical credential can make in terms of earnings and a student's likelihood of continuing in higher education.

The scholarship is also designed to increase access to higher education among underrepresented students of color, low-income students, and first-generation college students. Both Chief Sealth's and Cleveland's multicultural and diverse student bodies reflect that found on the South campus, making them natural selections as participating high schools.

Oertli, a Chief Sealth alum and the first in his family to graduate from college, stresses that initiatives like the 13th Year Promise Scholarship become even more important as students are asked to bear a larger share of the costs associated with college. The scholarship reinforces South's commitment to keeping the pathway open to higher education for those who otherwise might not be able to continue after high school.

Student success has become a key element of the program, and the results have been encouraging. Among the resources developed to help 13th Year students succeed include a College Readiness Academy, Summer Bridge Program, and quarterly Success Contract. Most important, however, has been the addition of a designated 13th Year Promise Scholarship coordinator who serves as students' exclusive point of contact on the high school and college campuses.

An estimated 80-100 students are expected to enroll in the fall quarter 2011, 13th Year Promise Scholarship cohort.

Ruben Deleon, whose family is struggling financially, wasn't too sure if college was right for him. After the senior assembly, however, his doubts were erased.

"Now college is the road that I want to take," the 17-year old stated with certainty.

And he'll get there, thanks to a promise made to him and his classmates by South Seattle Community College.

Contact: Elizabeth Pluhta, 206.763.5141