The Great Recession, from late 2007 to June of 2009, was the most severe financial and economic collapse since the Great Depression. With sales tax revenues plummeting by more than 10% in the first year alone, Washington State responded by reducing spending by more than $11 billion. Support for state universities was necessarily slashed, forcing annual tuition increases of 15% or more that added up to a 75% increase in tuition at Washington State University over a period of four years. Eligibility for the State Need Grant, which provided tuition support for low-income students, was further restricted.

It has been said crisis is the mother of innovation, and many reforms were instituted to help the state cope with future crises. By 2015, the state had recovered enough for Gov. Jay Inslee and the legislature to fund a 15% reduction in tuition over a period of two years while limiting future tuition to a maximum percentage equivalent to an average of median wage growth over the previous 14 years (equivalent to about 2.5% today).

The big game changer for post-secondary education came in 2019 when the governor and legislature replaced the State Need Grant with what is called the Washington College Grant, or WCG. Eligibility was further expanded in 2022. There are no age limits for the WCG, and support is available for both part-time and full-time students at most campus-based education or training programs including two- and four-year state, tribal and private institutions. In some cases, support is available for noncampus-based apprenticeships.

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