Among goals of AFT actions on April 11: cost-free college

CTC faculty, staff support the Communities for Our Colleges coalition’s efforts for cost-free college



(April 6, 2023) —  As faculty and staff at Washington’s community and technical colleges (CTCs), our goal is to educate students so they can lead their best possible lives.

The 34 colleges across the state where we work remain a primary driver of social mobility, as places where students who otherwise couldn’t afford college can get their start. We work to change the lives of students and their families, and the data shows that we do! Bachelor degree holders make an average of $1 million more over their lifetime than non-degree holders, and associate degree holders have a 14 percent increase in earnings.

Our students understand the importance of investing in themselves, and they make significant sacrifices to go to college. One bright student I knew who attended college on an athletic scholarship was sleeping in her car. In the fall of 2022, a postsecondary basic needs survey of nearly 10,000 students across Washington state showed that almost 40 percent of students reported food insecurity in the last 30 days, and more than a third experienced housing insecurity in the last year, with more than 10 percent experiencing homelessness.

Educated graduates help the state – but the state must provide more support to students seeking higher education to make that a reality for more people. It’s time for cost-free college.

Even for students who do not face food and housing insecurity, the cost of tuition remains a roadblock to higher education. Despite the efforts from educators and students, enrollment continues to drop across the country, with the COVID-related drop at CTCs in Washington state at 24 percent.

Our students—over half of whom are people of color—have always faced large barriers to get to college. But lately those obstacles have become even more insurmountable for many: tuition, books, childcare, transportation, time away from work —all of these are taking a toll on families that are often already debt-burdened. Student debt is sky-high, with 43.5 million borrowers holding an average loan debt of $37,574 – that’s $1.76 trillion in debt, and the majority of it is concentrated on younger borrowers. This debt risk is daunting, especially for students like ours who don’t have generational wealth. And this is despite a growing effort to make tuition free for students across the state and country. We have more work to do to create universal access to higher education.

That’s why cost-free college is so important to CTC faculty and staff like us, represented by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Washington. In Washington state, a coalition of student, labor and community groups, called Communities for Our Colleges, has formed to make cost-free college a reality. The coalition supported a bill this year, SB 5712, which modified the Washington College Grant to expand the qualifications for the grant; however, it died in the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee.

We are disappointed that the State Legislature has rejected this important bill for dramatically improving the economic stability of its citizens, a bill that increases the state’s tax base in the long run. This could have been a rising tide that would truly raise all ships: all of Washington benefits from an educated workforce that builds strong, stable communities.

That’s one of the reasons we’ll be marching on the Capitol in Olympia this April 11 with the Coalition. We are ready to continue this fight in the next legislative session.


Eric Hamako is President of Shoreline College Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1950.


ALSO from The StandCall on Legislature to fully fund community, technical colleges — Community and technical college (CTC) faculty and staff, students and community members from across Washington will rally in Seattle, Lynnwood and Tacoma and converge on the State Capitol for a Day of Action on Tuesday, April 11 to call on the State Legislature to prioritize student success by fully funding our CTCs.

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