Bellingham middle schools receive governor’s ‘Gold Star’ for scholarship signups

Bellingham middle schools received Gold Star awards from Gov. Jay Inslee in February for signing up 81.8 percent of last year’s eligible eighth graders for the College Bound Scholarship. More than 200 schools in 103 school districts received the award for exceeding the statewide signup rate of 71 percent.

The College Bound Scholarship helps Washington’s low-income students reach higher levels of educational attainment. In combination with other state aid, it covers tuition at public college rates. Eligible students sign up in middle school by June 30 of their eighth-grade year to receive an early commitment of state funding.

The scholarship program was instituted by the state Legislature in 2007 to reduce financial barriers for middle school students who want to pursue a college education. Graduation and college-enrollment data show the program is working.

Statewide, the 2016 graduation rate for students who signed up for the College Bound Scholarship was 76 percent, compared to 64 percent for income-eligible students who didn’t sign up for the scholarship. (The overall graduation rate in 2016 in Washington state was 79 percent.) Students signing up for the scholarship also are enrolling in college at a rate slightly higher than the state average: 64 percent of College Bound Scholarship students enrolled in college in 2013-14, compared to the statewide rate of 61 percent.

Whatcom Middle School enrolled 100 percent of eligible eighth graders last year, counselor Molly Foote said. (The state uses a signup total that can be different from what each school reports, due to students changing schools and other factors.)

“In my experience, students and families are very grateful for the College Bound Scholarship program, and they appreciate the tangible step it offers in planning for their future,” Foote said.

Max Magaña would concur. He is the father of two students, a 10th grader at Bellingham High School and a seventh grader at Whatcom. Both are signed up for the scholarship.

“There was no way we’d be able to afford college. We want an opportunity for our children,” Magaña said.

The scholarships motivate Magaña’s two daughters. “My 12 year old — this is a big year for her. Seeing her progress and how much effort she puts in, I think she’ll be good. My 15-year-old is involved in sports and is doing really well. She’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to college.’ She’s all about it.”

“It’s important for kids to have this idea, even before high school, that college is a possibility,” said Aaron Tiger, Kulshan Middle School counselor. Out of 79 eligible students last school year, Tiger said he got all but three to sign up.

Fairhaven Middle School is on track to sign up 80 to 100 percent of its eligible eighth graders this year, counselor Angie Penner said.

“The program, in my opinion, has the ability to open doors for students,” Penner said. “That can be a terrific motivator.”

“For our school and our students, this program is huge,” Shuksan Middle School counselor Jennifer Cowan said. “For many students, it is literally what allows them to attend college.

“It is really one of the best things that Washington state does for higher education, I believe.”

To receive the scholarship, students must be admitted to and enroll in an eligible college within one year of high school graduation. The signup rates for all school districts in the state, and the list of schools receiving Gold Star Awards, are available on the Washington Student Achievement Council website,

The graph above, courtesy of the Washington Student Achievement Council, shows that the College Bound Scholarship program provides an incentive for eligible students to graduate from high school.


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