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Senator Murray: “Our community colleges expand access to higher education, provide opportunities to help workers gain skills and get jobs, and help students transition to four year colleges… That’s why I’m working hard to ensure that the Build Back Better package includes key investments to make community college free”

***Photos available for widespread distribution can be found HERE*** 

(Mount Vernon, WA) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a roundtable with students and staff at Skagit Valley College (SVC) to hear how tuition-free community college would help them and the local community. In her remarks, Senator Murray highlighted her efforts as chair of the Senate education committee to make community college tuition free as a part of the Build Back Better agenda President Biden and Democrats are working to move through Congress.

Senator Murray was joined at the roundtable by Dave Paul, Director of Community Relations at SVC and State Representative for Washington’s 10th district; Anne Clark, Vice President of College Advancement at SVC; Crystal Allison, Dean of Financial Aid and Veteran Education at SVC; Gary Shelby a first generation political science student at SVC; and Adalis Castellanos a first generation nursing student at SVC.

“As a former community college instructor at Shoreline College, I know how life-changing higher education can be for Washington state students and families,” said Senator Murray. “Our community colleges put higher education within reach for more people, provide opportunities to help workers gain skills and get jobs, and help students transition to four year colleges. Every student deserves the same opportunity to get a higher education and have a shot at success—but for too long and for too many students across Washington state, pursuing higher education after high school or later in life has been out of reach or puts them in debt. That’s why I’m working hard to ensure that the Build Back Better package makes community college free.”

“Investing in community college is important because most of the students here, have family here and will work here – it’s an investment in the community. This is actually something that’s important and is meaningful. Free community college would be very helpful for myself and so many others,” said Gary Shelby, SVC political science student.

I’m currently in the nursing program. I came to the U.S. three years ago, I have been working and trying to meet my basic needs since day one. But like any college student, I’m just getting started and paying for everything at once – sometimes even gas can be a nightmare. Free community college is not just about one less bill – it’s about freedom for the future, the freedom to choose where you want to be. How many people have to choose their career’s based on their family’s income. By receiving tuition free community college, I will no longer be concerned about the weight of student loan debt,” said Adalis Castellanos, SVC nursing program student.

“We are so excited about Senator Murray’s proposal. This is something that means a lot to our college. Skagit Valley College worked 4 years ago on a Skagit Promise concept, and we just could not get the math to work to help support our community and make sure everybody—not just recent high school graduates—had access to tuition free community college,” said State Representative Dave Paul, Skagit Valley College’s Director of Community Relations. “We know that this would help our economy. I know from my work with students that a lot of folks in our community don’t know that they would qualify for aid. Making tuition free would make it so much easier to communicate that to all potential students. This legislation would allow the college to focus our resources on equity and achievement – like helping students with textbooks or child care and other costs of a college education.”

The current crisis of affordability has led to a steep college enrollment decline, particularly for students with low-incomes and students of color. As of fall 2020, high-minority and high-poverty high schools saw a 9.4 percent and 11.4 percent decline in college enrollment, respectively. And over the last 40 years, we have seen the most growth in jobs requiring higher levels of job preparation, including education and training. Today, 70 percent of jobs are held by people with more than a high school degree.

Senator Murray has long fought to make college more affordable for students across the country, and has supported free community college since then-President Obama proposed his plan in 2015. The provisions related to making community college tuition free in the Senate’s Build Back Better budget reconciliation package are modeled after Senator Murray’s recently reintroduced America’s College Promise Act.

Senator Murray’s America’s College Promise Act legislation will ensure that first-time students and workers wanting to reskill can enroll in a community college to earn a degree or credential for free. The America’s College Promise Act creates new federal-state partnerships that provide two years of tuition-free access to community or technical college programs and significant tuition and fee grant aid for two years at an eligible four-year historically Black college or university (HBCU) or minority-serving institution (MSI).