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Seattle Promise Scholars Exceed National Trends Despite Pandemic

Following record enrollment in the Seattle Promise program in Fall of 2020, the program is now celebrating record setting degree completion rates. In 2021, more than 80 Promise scholars completed their post-secondary degrees exceeding national two-year and three-year college completion trends. Enrollment for the Seattle Promise program is open now.


Jenny A. Durkan, Mayor 

Dwane Chappelle, Director 


October 27, 2021

Revised: November 3, 2021  

Contact: Sage Leibenson,, 206-507-6701

Seattle Promise Scholars Exceed National Trends Despite Pandemic

Applications Currently Open for Class of 2022 Graduating Seniors

SEATTLE (November 3, 2021)Following record enrollment in the Seattle Promise program in Fall of 2020, the program is now celebrating record setting degree completion rates. In 2021, more than 80 Promise scholars completed their post-secondary degrees exceeding national two-year and three-year college completion trends.  

Among students who began college in Fall 2018, more than 20 additional Promise scholars, 75% of whom are students of color, completed their degrees within three years. In total, the 2018 cohort achieved a 37% three-year graduation rate, which exceeds the average national three-year completion rate of 28% reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. The Seattle Promise program also celebrates 2-year completion rates of 24% for the 2018 cohort and 20% for the 2019 cohort.  

Policies sponsored by Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and approved by Seattle City Council in December 2020 allowed Seattle Promise 2019 cohort and 2020 cohort scholars to defer their enrollment, enroll part-time, or take additional time to complete their degrees. These flexible COVID-19 enrollment policies and on-going Seattle Promise program supports are designed to further increase three-year completion rates.  

“With the support of Seattle voters and investment from our City’s Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy, we have grown the Seattle Promise program into a leading national model. We have told Seattle students that if they keep their promise to study hard and enroll in college, the City will keep our promise to deliver the supports they need to complete their degrees,” Mayor Durkan said. “We adapted the Promise program in response to the pandemic, but the credit goes to these Seattle Promise scholars who rose to the occasion. We are so proud of our Promise graduates, and are excited to invite students impacted by COVID-19 to re-enter the program and complete their degrees as part of our City’s recovery from the pandemic.” 

“The investment Seattle citizens made in the youth of our city built a program that serves as a constant and a light of hope,” said Seattle Colleges Chancellor Shouan Pan. “During this uncertain time our students have proven their resiliency, yet again, and Seattle Promise has emerged as a model for higher education and a pathway to living-wage careers. I’m proud of what we are accomplishing together,” said Pan. 

“Education has opened numerous doors for me over time,” said Council President M. Lorena González (Position 9). “I am proud that we are a City that is committed to examining ways to support Seattle families pursue prosperity through education. Investments to make college and career training opportunities affordable for Seattle students as well as our commitment to expanding access to high-quality preschool and childcare will help close the opportunity gap and bring us closer to educational justice.”  

The Seattle Promise program serves a racially and ethnically diverse group of scholars. In Fall 2020, more than 830 Promise scholars enrollment at the Colleges with 58% identifying as students of color and 35% as first generation—meaning the first in their families to attend college. In the 2020-2021 school year, 22% of Promise scholars received the equity scholarship and 54% of scholars received tuition assistance. The equity scholarship predominantly supports students of color (85%), while the last-dollar tuition assistance serves students of color (56%) and white students more equally (44%). All Promise scholars receive application and persistence supports from Seattle College’s staff.  

Earlier this summer, Mayor Durkan and partners announced a spending plan leveraging $10.7M in federal Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery (CLFR) funds to make COVID-19 recovery policies like extra time to complete degrees—called the completion commitment—through 2023. The spending plan was informed by a Racial Equity Toolkit completed in 2020 as well as qualitative research conducted by DEEL during the 2020-2021 school year. Spending will support program enhancements intentionally designed to promote college retention and persistence among Promise scholars furthest from educational justice and from communities of color most impacted by the pandemic. 

Council approved $4 million of the spending plan earlier this year, allowing efforts to begin in Fall 2021. To date, the City has covered college placement exam fees for more than 350 students and provided access to free summer coursework for 10 Promise scholars with federal CLFR funds. In addition to the completion commitment, the Seattle Colleges will soon implement three exciting program enhancements for students as part of the federal funding:  

  • Promise student re-entry policies, 
  • An expanded equity scholarship, and  
  • A new transfer pathway program with the University of Washington.  

Roughly 500 Seattle Promise scholars who started college in Fall 2019 and 2020 but stopped their college studies during to pandemic will be invited to re-enroll in the Seattle Colleges and re-enter the Seattle Promise program. 

“Despite their best efforts many students put their goals on hold to take care of immediate personal and family needs that were beyond their control,” said Kendy Trinh, Seattle Promise Retention Specialist. “I’m happy to see them get a second chance to re-enter Seattle Promise and pursue the career goals they’ve been longing to achieve.”  

This year, with federal funding, the equity scholarship for income-eligible Promise scholars has grown from $500 per quarter to $1,000 per quarter and eligibility will expand from $0 Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to approximately $5,000 EFC in alignment with federal Pell grants. This expansion will enable more students to access flexible funds that can be used to support the true cost of attending college, and pay for things like books, childcare, transportation, and other non-tuition costs. 

The new partnership with the University of Washington (UW) is projected to serve 80 Promise scholars annually. Promise scholars have indicated more support is needed to help them achieve their goals of transferring to four-year institutions. 

“I was excited, but a bit nervous about transferring to a place as big as the University of Washington, said Shelzy Jutz, Seattle Promise alum and current UW student. “It would’ve been great to have someone who understood where I was coming from to talk to and help me transfer and apply for my program of study.”  

The new UW program will provide dedicated staffing to help Promise scholars transfer to the institution, access to credit-bearing coursework at the UW prior to transferring, and mentorship once matriculated at the UW. 

Dwane Chappelle, Director of the City’s Department of Education and Early Learning, is humbled by the number of Seattle scholars taking advance of the Seattle Promise program. “Honoring our commitment to close race-based opportunity gaps in college access in completion is extremely rewarding. Record enrollment and completion is evidence that working in partnership, removing barriers, and providing multiple avenues to attend College is a successful approach for Seattle scholars to reach their full potential.”  

An additional $6.7 million in federal funding to fund these equity efforts through 2023, as well as a revenue source to sustain them through 2026, is included in the Mayor’s 2022 proposed budget. City Council will vote on the budget in late November. 

Seattle Promise Application for Class of 2022 Graduating Seniors Now Open 

The Seattle Promise application for class of 2022 graduating seniors is now open. Seattle Public Schools high school seniors are invited to apply. Visit for more information and application assistance available in multiple languages.