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Equity Enhanced Pandemic Response Shows Promise for Scholars

Incoming scholars excited for the Seattle Promise pose for a photo at the Summer Bridge college orientation.

Increased scholarships, new university transfer pathways, and flexible re-entry policies integrated into the Seattle Promise experience support college success for students navigating systemic barriers 

Seattle Promise applications for Fall 2023 open now through February 17

After one year of implementation, early impact data shows Seattle Promise program enhancements made in response to COVID-19 are serving increasingly higher numbers of students of color, first-generation, and low-income students to persist and succeed at Seattle Colleges. Equity enhancements comprise a suite of supportive programs implemented between fall 2021 and fall 2022 funded with $10.7 million in both federal and municipal dollars to keep Seattle public high school graduates moving toward their college and career goals despite pandemic pressures. The voter-approved Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) Levy will sustain this critical investment, as part of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s 2023-24 budget.  

“Due to the global pandemic, students have endured the most challenging years on record. Equity enhancements are vital resources created to address the barriers faced by so many students of color,” said Dr. Dwane Chappelle, Director of DEEL. “These resources support the students who need them most, which is foundational to the goals of the FEPP Levy and our city. While we collect more data to better understand the enhancements’ effects, we’re pleased that the trends we’re seeing indicate the program is moving in the right direction.” 

Dr. Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap, Seattle Colleges Interim Chancellor added, “Seattle Promise has been overwhelmingly successful in its first four years, surpassing enrollment projections and increasing college persistence despite the unforeseen challenges of a global pandemic. The equity enhancements are targeting low-income and BIPOC students who need these investments to recover, re-enter the program, complete their degrees, and find successful careers.”  

Student Challenges Addressed through Equity Enhancements  

At the onset of COVID-19, in spring 2020, the Seattle Promise third quarter retention rate (the number of students who re-enroll) was at its highest with 73% of the 2019-20 cohort retained (six percent higher than the 2018-2019 cohort). Even though Promise saw record enrollment during the pandemic, the shift to remote learning proved challenging for students. In the 2019-20 school year, 554 scholars exited the program with many citing pandemic-related causes. College students were some of the last to return to in-person learning, deeply impacting their trajectory. 

Student feedback and program data collected during both equity and process evaluations reported 73% of scholars surveyed as needing additional supports. The most common supports cited were related to academic and career planning and academic progress, with nearly a quarter citing need for more wraparound supports. Responding to student requests, a series of equity enhancements were developed to address student retention, completion, and success, including:   

  • Additional resources increasing college access, retention, and completion:  
    • Expanded equity scholarships that pay housing, food, and transportation costs; 
    • Flexible part-time and re-entry policies; and 
    • Up to one year of additional time to complete certificates, credentials, or degrees. 
  • Academic supports: Supplemental tutoring in high school that reduces the need for developmental coursework in college. These supports provide students the ability to fully participate in their Seattle College experience with college-level courses that apply towards a degree, credential, or certificate attainment. 
  • New transfer pathways: Priority access to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship and Path to UW programs. 
  • Career exploration & preparation: Priority access to paid jobs training, college, and career exploration opportunities through the Seattle Youth Employment Program.

“The Seattle Promise is a layered one—where students have both the financial resources to cover tuition and additional supports that will support their aspirations of higher education and a pathway to a career. It’s our city’s promise to keep equity at the forefront,” said Dr. Brittany Ota-Malloy, Postsecondary Manager at DEEL and former Director of Retention for Seattle Promise at Seattle Colleges. “As we continue to evaluate Promise programming and improve, we’re listening to students and addressing what they tell us they need to succeed.” 

One Year in With Promising Results 

 Caption: At Summer Bridge, Promise scholars are introduced to their instructors, peers, and resources to help them succeed in their college journey. 

Equity enhancements are in their infancy, with just one year of data. Still, early reflections demonstrate that these investments are returning promising results:  

  • Enhancements primarily support students furthest from educational justice and students of color. 
  • Of 554 students who exited the program in 2019-20, all were eligible for re-entry with greater supports available to them.  
  • So far, 72 students reentered with more than half identifying as Black and/or Latinx.  
  • In the 2020-21 school year, over 70% of equity scholarship recipients were students of color and the need increased in 2021-22, with most recipients identifying as students of color. 

“Many students have been in a tough position when something happened and they needed more funds to support themselves. Not long ago, my laptop broke during midterm season and I didn’t have the funds to replace it,” said Anisa Mohamed, second-year Seattle Promise scholar at South Seattle College. “The equity scholarship helped me repair my laptop to continue my studies. It also helped me pay for supplies, books, and anything else I needed to continue school. I’m grateful it was there.” 

Initial results are promising; however, more time is needed to understand the full implications of these enhancements as more pandemic-impacted students choose the option for a third year and re-entry into the program. Seattle Colleges outreach staff continue to connect with former scholars to inform them of their options for continuing their postsecondary journey. This essential work is ongoing and making a difference.  

Apply Now for the Seattle Promise  

Do you know a Seattle high school senior who could benefit from the Seattle Promise? The application period for the Fall 2023 cohort is open now through February 17, 2023. All Seattle public school seniors are eligible to apply. Learn more at:  

Seattle Promise is a voter-approved Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) Levy-funded college success program provided in partnership by DEEL, Seattle Colleges, and Seattle Public Schools. The program offers Seattle public school graduates a last-dollar tuition scholarship at any of the three Seattle Colleges campuses, equity scholarships for income-eligible scholars, and additional support toward a certificate, credential, degree, or transfer to a four-year university.   

Seattle Promise reports a 37% three-year completion rate for the 2018 cohort, 15% higher than the 22% national three-year average. The new equity enhancements operate as a multilayered set of wraparound supports provided in addition to existing scholarships and resources available to Promise scholars. These enhancements will be sustained through 2026, the remaining term of the voter-approved levy.