Chapman bill calls for one year of free tuition at local community colleges in rural counties

OLYMPIA — To cultivate employment opportunities in timber and farm country, State Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, has introduced legislation that would provide one year of free tuition at local community colleges in rural counties.

“One year beyond high school is the tipping point for family wage jobs,” Chapman said. “This is about giving every family in rural Washington a chance to join the middle class – while providing local businesses with the skilled workforce they need to compete and thrive.”

Chapman’s House Bill 2177 targets high-demand fields in each region. Examples include firefighting, early childhood education, computer science, accounting, law enforcement and computer science.

The bill received a hearing in the House Higher Education Committee last week and a committee vote is scheduled for today. Those testifying in favor of the idea last week included Aberdeen’s Sierra Pacific Industries, the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Forest Protection Association, sustainable timber firm Green Crow and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Others who signed in to support the legislation include the Northwest Progressive Institute, the Port of Port Angeles and the Poverty Action Network.

No one testified against the legislation.

“Education is the great equalizer,” Chapman said. “If you look at any community—a city of one million or a small town with 400 people—you can predict a family’s average income by looking at one number: the percentage of workers with any education beyond high school. This legislation lifts up families in timber and farm country with high-demand skills for high-wage jobs. And it goes further by targeting the specific programs and certificates that industries and businesses need in each part of the state.”

Rural counties are defined as those with a population density of less than 100 people per square mile, or a county smaller than 225 square miles. That means residents in 30 out of the state’s 39 counties would be eligible.

Eligible students would have to live in one of those 30 rural counties, be enrolled in a community or technical college in a rural county, have a family income that’s not more than 70 percent of the state median (adjusted for family size), be enrolled in a program that’s identified as a high-demand field and maintain a grade point average of 2.0 or higher.

The free tuition would be for one year, which translates to 45 credits of full-time study. The state board of Community and Technical Colleges would award grants no later than the fall term of the 2019 academic year.

What’s next

House Bill 2177 is scheduled for a vote in the Higher Education Committee today