Free Seattle community college tuition for class of 2020 and beyond

Unconventional route to postsecondary education becomes even more accessible

Tess Petrillo, Staff Reporter

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As this year’s official college decision day has passed, most high school seniors know what their post graduation plans consist of. Many will go on to universities, some will take time off, and others will spend a couple years at community college. While the third option is often overlooked, the next few classes of seniors will have a unique opportunity pertaining to it.

In the wake of Seattle voters passing the most expensive education levy in the city’s history, starting with the class of 2020, Seattle Public School high school graduates will have the option of two years of tuition-free education at North Seattle College, Central College and South Seattle College.

Community college, though often stigmatized, is a viable option for students looking to expand their education beyond high school for significantly less money while not jumping straight into the intensity of a four-year university

The biggest difference between community college and a 4-year school is the student to faculty ratio. Community college provides a much smaller scale scene with the same academic level taught at large universities. Director of Enrollment Services and Outreach at North Seattle College, Susan Shanahan, recognizes the significance of a more one-on-one learning environment.

“When you have questions you can ask a teacher,” Shanahan said. “When you have questions you aren’t going to ask a [teacher’s assistant], you’ll ask that teacher right there and that teacher has accountability to you as a student to have office hours, and you have a responsibility to go to those office hours if you have questions as well.

Another beneficial aspect of the smaller environment is the direct support available to students. Each student is assigned an academic advisor based on their major in order to have complete support in achieving their academic goals. North Seattle College’s Student Success Specialist, Kelsey Peronto, understand the importance of having someone specific to talk to.

“I think back to my experience when I went from high school to college, and I was a really strong high school student but I really struggled with the transition to college,” Peronto said. “I remember feeling overwhelmed and feeling like I didn’t know where to look to having a smaller environment is really beneficial for access to academic advising. There’s a person who’s your point person to help you through all of those things.”

Students can become immersed in the culture of a community college by joining clubs and participating in similar activities that universities make available. Students do have to live at home which for some isn’t part of the typical college experience, but they receive much more affordable access to college education that prepares them for their future.

“You live at home, you save money, you have an excellent experience and you get to the university you really want to,” Shanahan said. “And when you do go onto university, you’re in your major because you are junior or senior level. So you’re able to dive in there with 100 percent confidence and you can really succeed.”

The idea that transferring to a university after attending two years of community college makes a student’s degree less important isn’t true as representatives for the University of Washington and Oregon State University emphasised at the annual College and Career Fair. Once someone has completed 60-90 credits from community college leading to a certain major, universities welcome them to apply and attend their schools as any other student would. And if some students don’t plan on going on to a university, there are options for them too.

“Some students are kind of done with school too and they just want to do a one year certificate or a two year degree and then get into the workforce and this is a great way to do that,” Peronto said.

With the passing of this levy, Seattle is prioritizing the importance of postsecondary education. Two years of free community college provides an unconventional learning opportunity that some students will find better suits their path to success.

“We prioritize your academic rigor and success,” Shanahan. “We truly do.”

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