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Taking part in democracy

January 19, 2024 by Mollie Kuwahara

Hello, 

Mollie Kuwahara here. I am a Tacoma Community College student and one of the SBCTC’s student legislative interns for the 2024 session. Last Friday, for the first time ever, I testified on a bill.

Senate Bill 5904 extends the eligibility of financial aid awards for the Washington College Grant, College Bound Scholarship, and Passport to Careers programs from five years or 125% percent of the published length of the student’s program to a more accessible and realistic timeline of six years or 150% of the length of the student’s program. Extending these programs’ timelines to six years or 150% makes them compatible with federal financial aid programs’ timelines. I see this as a benefit to students and college staff who are already overwhelmed with the varying policies and procedures around financial aid. This continuity in the timeline of federal aid and Washington state aid leaves one less variable for students and college staff to have to take into consideration. 

From the perspective of a community college student, not one student’s educational journey looks the same. It is ableist and outdated to assume that all college students can be successful in taking a full load of credits every quarter. The number of students enrolled with Access Services on Tacoma Community College’s campus, for example, has grown from 343 students in 2018 to over 2,000 in 2023. This rise in students receiving accessibility services translates into longer education timelines, as students are more and more supported as they balance their mental and physical health with their education. 

Part of my story, that is aligned with so many other community and technical college students, is that I am returning to my education after an eight- year education gap. Due to this gap, I spent a year and a half taking STEM courses that were simply prerequisites. Those credits do not apply to my degree but were necessary to take to move forward in my degree. 

Without the proposed expansion of Washington College Grant, the College Bound Scholarship, and Passport to Careers programs expanding to 150% or a six-year timeline, I, like many other returning community and technical college students, would not be able to complete my degree within the current state financial aid timeline. 

Washington state is the state with the most generous and comprehensive financial aid program. Extending the Washington College Grant keeps Washington state as leader in what college financial aid should look like. 

This is the story I wanted to tell senators. Testifying was an exhilarating process that looked like: 

  • Researching the bill. 
  • Reaching out to my peers at Tacoma Community College and the TCC Student Senate to hear how the bill could impact them. 
  • Writing different perspectives on the bill.
  • Narrowing down the written perspective that I thought would be most impactful for the committee to hear. 
  • Signing up to give testimony. 
  • Nervously waiting to give my testimony, while I listened to others testify. 
  • Finally, I was called to give testimony.

In the moment, you are trying to balance looking at the camera/representatives with eye contact, reading your testimony without it sounding either too rehearsed or too informal, and looking at the countdown timer without getting stressed about the seconds ticking away. 

All that preparation, and the final result of all this work is a short 90 second (sometimes less) testimony. No standing ovation, no curtain-drop, just a simple “thank you” from the committee chair, and then they move on to call the name of the next person to testify. 

I know it probably sounds like I am underwhelmed and ungrateful that I got to take part in democracy. Rather, I am amazed at the amount of research, connections, life experience and passion that a "90 second testimony" has packed into it. Each person who testifies deserves a standing ovation, in my opinion, for taking on the process and being active in democracy. 

I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to share my education experience with senators in hopes that it will influence their vote to support Senate Bill 5904. Now that I know what that experience feels like, my goal in this internship is to have my peers at Tacoma Community College share their individual experiences in the form of testifying during the 2024 legislative session. Please reach out me at mkuwahara@sbctc.edu if you know or are a community or technical college student who would like to give testimony at any upcoming public hearings!

Last Modified: 1/19/24, 4:06 PM
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