The Pacific Northwest Summit on College Affordability

Posted by Maica Pichler on August 31, 2015 at 10:43 AM

"The need for more affordable colleges isn't partisan, it is not even bipartisan, it is non-partisan... It is like the North Star being in the North," said State Senator Mark Hass (D-Oregon) at last Thursday's Pacific Northwest Summit on College Affordability hosted by the Campaign for Free College Tuition.

Bill_Moran.pngRead the Seattle Times’ article about the event here.

This truth was self-evident by simply looking around the room at over fifty attendees. There were representatives from:

  • Washington, where Republicans recently spearheaded a 15 to 20% tuition decrease at the state's public universities;
  • Oregon, where Democrats advanced free community college;
  • Kalamazoo, Michigan, home of the first free college scholarship program for all students graduating from local high schools;
  • Starbucks, which entered a partnership with Arizona State University to provide free online degree programs for their staff; 
  • The Gates Foundation which, every year, provides college scholarships for thousands of students;
  • Creative Commons, which is working on getting every single student in our country access to free textbook materials; and
  • The Undersecretary of Education, Ted Mitchell

In the room, there were individuals of all partisan stripes as well as none at all. There were public policymakers and private industry leaders, and there were a bevy of solutions filled with granularity and creativity. Regardless of the differences, there was one common agreement -- our students do better when they are given a chance and when they are invested in.



In fact, one speaker, Janice Brown of the Kalamazoo Promise, was armed with independently verifiable information that shows without equivocation that our students will do better if we give them a chance. The study, conducted by W.E. Upjohn, found that Kalamazoo students were:

  • 40% more likely to go to college;

  • 34% more likely to complete college;

  • Performing better in high school because they knew they had a chance at college;

  • Taking 15% more college credits and finishing earlier despite having the scholarship guaranteed for 10 years;

  • Less likely to get in trouble in high school or with the law.

The study found that for every dollar that was spent in the program, the return was $4.60. She suggested it might be a good alternative to the stock market these days -- everyone laughed. Most importantly, the study found a change in culture from one of buyer beware and risk aversion to one of growing student aspiration and community accountability.


Starbucks.pngThere is an outrage we all feel when we hear about students with thousands of dollars in debt -- who have to drop out in their last semester because they have no more financial aid. The outrage students feel when they are getting off the late shift with work piling up and they receive an email that tuition is going up next semester.

But from the depth of that outrage sprout the seeds of a better tomorrow. To quote Morley Winograd, a host and co-founder for the event, "When going to college isn't about income and where you come from, we see attitudes change. It is the single most important thing that we can do, from a policy perspective, to improve people's lives. It is the best thing to do because it is the only thing that shows an improvement in performance and attitudes not only at the college level, but also K-12."

"It all starts with a promise," said Morley, "that you'll have a chance, that your community stands with you." That is our promise. Years from now, there won't be anyone writing webpage posts about how America is failing its students, its families, it economy, or its future. We're going to fix this. That's a promise.




William Moran is with Stop Tuition Hikes, an effort developed by a group of college friends who were troubled to find tuition rates had doubled since they graduated only a few years ago. Their coalition includes friends, family, Idaho business leaders, and educators. Stop Tuition Hikes is currently working on a ballot initiative to cap of in-state tuition rates in Idaho, in November of 2016. Join them at 

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Our goal is to make higher education a possibility for every American, without regard to their financial circumstances.

We have a lot to do and not much time to do it, so your support is critical for our campaign to succeed. It’s with your investment that we can fundamentally reform how higher education is financed in this country, opening the doors to a more equitable society.

If you agree with our goal, our plan, and the urgency of the problem, we ask that you give what you can to help us write the next chapter in our nation’s history of continuously expanding access to universal, free education.

The Campaign for Free College Tuition is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in the State of Washington in 2014 to educate parents, students, the higher education community, policy makers and taxpayers about efforts needed to fundamentally reform our nation’s system for financing higher education. This website and CFCT’s educational outreach activities are made possible through generous individual and foundation support.