Seattle’s tuition-free community college program comes to the rescue during the pandemic

Joy Resmovits, The Seattle Times on

Published in Lifestyles

“It feels positive that it doesn’t seem like we’ve lost a bunch of students due to the pandemic,” said Melody McMillan, Seattle Promise’s senior executive director.

But some — inside and outside the program — say Promise has a way to go before it is truly equitable.

The program is limited to students in Seattle, while many lower-income students have moved south, said Yohalem; a King County Promise is in the works. At a time when vulnerable students face disruption, admissions are limited to just-graduated seniors.

And in pre-pandemic times, specialists were stationed evenly at each high school. Some critics suggest that it would have been smarter to put more recruiters in the lowest-income schools, rather than distributing them evenly across the city’s high schools.

Program leaders say the city is assessing its fairness through its Racial Equity Toolkit process.

Access isn’t enough. “If we can eliminate that financial side of it, we still know that students experience racism,” said Brian Jeffries, policy director at the Washington Roundtable/Partnership for Learning. “They experience other barriers. We need to start turning our attention to that.”


Still, schools can learn from the Promise’s early glimmers of success. They show how community colleges, armed with extra resources, can recruit and support students who need all the credentials they can get as they prepare to enter a COVID-shaped workforce.

Just ask Karla Franco Fierro, an aspiring nurse who is always second guessing her grip on English.

Remote college “is going great”

Speaking through the grogginess of a near all-nighter spent studying for a math quiz, Franco Fierro recently explained that although she was born in Seattle, her first language is Spanish. Fierro’s parents moved here from Mexico, and the family spoke Spanish at home.


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