King County Promise

  • Pathway to Change Area: Student Measures of Progress
  • Outcome from the PSESD Pathway to Change: A racially just and humanizing school system; all can succeed and achieve
  • Indicator Name: Postsecondary direct enrollment
  • Indicator Description: Percent of high school students direct enrolling in all Washington and out-of-state private and publicly funded two or four-year institutions

Connecting Youth to Postsecondary Education

Image of PSCCN staff members receiving King County Promise

By 2024, almost 90 percent of living wage jobs in King County will require some kind of postsecondary education or credential. Yet right now, only 31 percent of King County high school graduates complete a postsecondary credential.

King County Promise is a comprehensive approach to connecting youth to the postsecondary education and credentials they need. It is designed to address long-standing racial equity gaps by eliminating systemic failures and providing critical navigation support to students on both alternative and traditional pathways to college. It centers a vision for improved equity in college access and success for historically underserved, young King County residents.

“The idea of the King County Promise was to help us collectively start thinking bigger across the full region about what needs to change in postsecondary education to ensure that it’s more equitable and accessible for students of color,” said PSESD’s Postsecondary Director, Kyla Lackie. “We started with the prompt: what needs to change in our systems, and what should those systems look like?”

Since 2017, PSCCN has been engaging the education community across King County with these questions. Several consistent themes and strategies have emerged: students want more support at school from knowledgeable and culturally relevant staff, help through the transitions, and more support to reach completion once at college. “Our systems present numerous hurdles for students to get to completion,” said Lackie. “We believe that many of these barriers can be addressed with the right capacity, collective will, and clarity on solutions.”

Investing Where It Matters Most

For many students of color, first-generation students, and students impacted by poverty, navigating the pathway to postsecondary education can depend on the presence of educational guides, both inside and outside of the school system. A lack of support can leave students unable to explore college and career options, understand academic and other requirements, and navigate the labyrinth of the college application and financial aid processes. Even when a student is able to make it to a college environment, they often will find that their college also lacks adequate support to help them be successful.

“We had an excellent advisor our freshman year who was like a mom to us. However, she left and now we have someone who isn’t supportive, or connected, or familiar with our challenges as first-generation students of color. The advisor is critical — but they also don’t stay.” -College student from south King County

“The ways in which our young people and students go through the system is not always linear,” said Mercy Daramola, a Puget Sound  College Access Network Manager. “They may be in a certain high school, but their main social support might come from a community organization. We’re both addressing the short term, which is making sure that there are more staff in these roles, and also addressing that higher level coordination between systems. Investing in different places where students show up, or the different approaches that students take on their postsecondary journeys, is important.”

The need for equitable student support is underscored by the conditions of a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color across the nation. As students adapt to the dramatic shift toward remote learning, it is projected that more students will choose to attend their local community and technical colleges than ever before. For King County Promise, the intentional decision to partner with local community and technical colleges (CTCs) represents the alignment of a program that was shaped by the voices of students in our region. “The fact that the Promise reflects something that is on people’s minds even more now is incredible to reckon with,” said Daramola.

Image of King County Promise group

Student Testimonial

Hi, my name is Gurjot. I’m a rising junior at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), and I’m here to speak in support of the King County Promise. 

Only a few years ago, I was a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School contemplating my future and trying to decide which college I’d go to. As a first generation college student, I felt overwhelmed. Where should I go? How do I apply? Will I do well once I’m there? Language barriers and a lack of knowledge prevented my parents from helping my siblings and I with the process. However, this is a common struggle for a lot of students throughout King County.  Especially, for historically underserved populations of first-generation, low income, students of color. In fact, just 30 percent of students complete any kind of postsecondary credentials by their mid-twenties, even though 96 percent of SKC high school students want to attain some college credentials to pursue a career.

Furthermore, there is a direct correlation between the resources a school is provided and the success of their students. Luckily, my graduating class was a part of a mentoring program that provided students with extra school supplies, took them on college field trips, assisted with college apps, and connected with their families. But since the program only applied to my high school class of 2017, it was like winning a lottery. That’s not how our education system should work. Don’t all our students deserve the same support?

Last summer, through the WA Bus, I got the chance to talk to numerous youth about the King County Promise and their postsecondary goals. And from all the conversations, it’s clear that what students want is a system that provides them the financial and advising support to succeed in their pursuits for higher education. That’s why I, along with many others, are here today in support of funding the Promise with 38 percent of PSTAA funds.

Looking Forward

King County Promise is now more critical than ever, and it can serve as a key component of the COVID-19 recovery strategy. Access to postsecondary education and training programs is going to be essential for rebuilding our regional economy and preparing our next generation of leaders. Moving forward, the Promise will serve to demonstrate the effective strategies and adequate funding levels needed that can be replicated statewide.

“King County Promise represents the best aspirations of our region. We know that we can do better by our students, so we put together in a package what the best of our work can look like,” Daramola said. “Let’s put it all together and dream of a system where it’s something that we have as a standard.”

“Sometimes there are these serendipitous moments where a student will say, ‘I met this person and I was so lucky that they helped guide me to my program.’ We don’t want those moments to happen by luck. We want to systematize those, so that every student has the opportunity to feel lucky.” -Puget Sound College and Career Network Manager Christian Grandlund

“I needed more than just someone saying ‘How are you doing?’ I needed the practical, specific, technical support.” -College Student from South King County