EVERETT — This school year, hundreds of seniors in Snohomish County will receive college acceptance letters before they even apply.
Some already have.
Local educators say the state’s new Guaranteed Admissions Program will show students who never thought they were college material that, in fact, they’ve got what it takes to attend one of five public universities in Washington.
“The most exciting part of it is students are coming to me saying, ‘Hey, guess what? I got my admissions notice. I was accepted to so and so,’” said Alicia Coragiulo, career and college readiness counselor at Marysville Getchell High School. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to be able to celebrate, tell them I’m proud of them and acknowledge all of the hard work they have done.”
GAP gives automatic acceptance to Central Washington University, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University and The Evergreen State College for students who have a 3.0 GPA and complete the core requirements for college admission, also known as CADRs. The program is organized by the Council of Presidents, an association of Washington’s public, four-year universities and colleges.
Five local school districts — Everett, Marysville, Lake Stevens, Northshore and Snohomish — signed on for the program’s inaugural year. With permission from families, school districts share high school juniors’ and seniors’ GPA, transcript and contact information with the universities. In turn, those institutions send acceptance letters to any senior who meets the two minimum requirements for admission.
The universities also send information to juniors to outline what they need to do to get automatically admitted to college once they are seniors.
The aim is to “grow the college-going culture,” and to help keep Washington students in Washington jobs, said Julie Garver, director of policy and academic affairs for the Council of Presidents.
About 43% of the students from the class of 2019 will earn a degree, apprenticeship or certification by age 26, according to the Partnership for Learning, a state education foundation. In the same time frame, employers will create about 373,000 new jobs, of which 70% will require a postsecondary credential.
The state’s 2021-22 Skilled and Educated Workforce report emphasized Washington relies heavily on “in-migration” of workers with postsecondary credentials from other states.
“We have a misalignment of the college-going culture here,” Garver said. “We have a lot of people in Washington with a college degree. They just aren’t Washingtonians.”
Research indicates automatic admissions programs like GAP boost students’ confidence, reduce the time and cost of applications, and ease the decision to attend college. And that helps “build a bridge” to higher education for students who had not planned to enroll, Partnership for Learning says.
Garver said last year during the small pilot of GAP, the program gave guaranteed admission to 200 “unique students.”
“That means we picked up 200 students who would not have come into our institutions through normal outreach,” she said.
Marysville participated in the pilot and now the district has built a structure to automatically enroll students in GAP, Coragiulo said.
This year more than 150 seniors at Marysville Getchell High School have met the admissions requirements so far, Coragiulo said. That’s about 10% of the total student population.
“That doesn’t represent the entire district. That’s just Getchell,” she said, alluding to the program’s expected wide reach.
Students still have to apply to the university they want to attend, but the automatic acceptance saves them time, Coragiulo said. They don’t have to wait to learn if they got in, because they know right away.
“Overall, it’s a pretty straight forward program and opportunity, and I think they’ve done a really good job of taking away any barriers for student participation,” she said.
In Everett Public Schools, where the program is brand new, the district sent out permission forms for parents and students to opt in to share information. Jeanne Willard, the district’s executive director of career and college readiness, said she wanted to get involved in GAP as soon as she heard about it.
“What appealed to me was that we would have a program that would actually take down some of the barriers for students to enroll in college,” Willard said. “I think one of those barriers is the belief set that students have of, ‘I won’t be admitted, so why try?’”
GAP clearly outlines what it takes to get into five of the six public institutions in Washington, she said. It eliminates the “fear or rejection” that prevents some students from applying at all, she said.
Automatic acceptance also “gives students the bandwidth” to focus on more important decisions about where to attend, what to major in and how to pay for classes, Willard said. That can be especially helpful for first-generation college students whose families are not familiar with the options and resources available for students, Willard said.
So far, about 80 students have agreed to participate, Willard said.
“It’s going to be really thrilling for kids to get their letters,” she said. “When that starts happening here in the next few weeks, I think even more kids are going to sign on.”
Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.