Post-Secondary Education

Pursuing a post-secondary education or vocational training program leading to a college degree or credential is an effective strategy for helping low-income adults secure a living-wage job and reach economic security.



Despite the importance of a post-secondary education, many people living on low incomes face economic barriers that prevent them from accessing training programs that lead to family-wage careers. Low-income high school students often lack the financial resources needed to pay for college. Low-income parents in our state struggle in low wage work, unable to afford the education and training they need to get a higher paying job. Currently, 400,000 working adults do not have a high school diploma and an additional one million lack any education beyond high school.1 Furthermore, the recent economic downturn has led to soaring unemployment rates and a deepening sense of economic insecurity and uncertainty among thousands of low-income families. New public investments are needed more than ever to bolster access to need-based financial aid for low-income students as well as vocational training programs for adults who are reentering the workforce or seeking a higher paying job to better support their families.


What we are doing about it

Poverty Action has played a lead role in forwarding innovative workforce development policies over the past fifteen years and will continue to do so as our state works toward post-recession economic recovery. Below are some of our major accomplishments in post-secondary education and workforce development as well as our priorities for the future.

Expanding Work Supports for Low-Wage Workers. Full-time, low-wage workers often do not earn high enough wages to meet their families’ basic needs. Subsidized work supports help “make work pay” by offsetting high cost necessities, such as child care.

Working Families Tax Rebate (WFTR): Poverty Action helped pass the WFTR into law in 2008. If funded, it would boost resources for 400,000 low-income, working families by adding 10-percent to their federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

Poverty Action Policy Priority: Fund the WFTR

Working Connections Child Care (WCCC): WCCC provides subsidized child care to low-income, working parents. Poverty Action has played a lead role in advocating for the funding and expansion of the WCCC program over the past fifteen years, including restoring the income eligibility level to 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) in 2012.

Poverty Action Policy Priority: Increase the WCCC eligibility level to 300% of the FPL

Unemployment Compensation Benefits: In 2009, Poverty Action worked with the labor community to raise unemployment benefits by $45 per week.

Poverty Action Policy Priority: Ensure unemployment compensation benefits are funded at a level that ensures families can meet their basic needs

Expanding Need-Based Financial Aid. Our state’s twenty-first century economy is producing family-wage jobs that require post-secondary education credentials. At the same time, the cost of attaining a college or technical degree have increased, making higher education out of reach to many people living on low incomes. Need-based financial aid must be expanded to ensure people living on low incomes can access the training they need to secure a living wage career.

Opportunity Grants Program: Poverty Action helped pass the Opportunity Grants Program in 2007 to create educational and employment pathways for low-income students in high demand occupations. Opportunity Grants increase low-income students’ access to higher education by providing financial support to address common barriers such as tuition, books, transportation and childcare. The program also provides internships, pre-apprenticeships, counseling and one year of financial aid, and the promise of a job interview upon completion of a post-secondary choice of study.

Poverty Action Policy Priority: Increase Opportunity Grants Program funding

State Need Grant (SNG): The SNG program provides need-based financial aid to low-income undergraduate students.

Poverty Action Policy Priority: Increase the SNG to keep up with the cost of tuition and expand funding so all income-eligible students are able to receive the grant

State Work Study: The State Work Study program helps low- and middle-income students earn money for college.

Poverty Action Policy Priority: Expand funding for State Work Study

Reforming Developmental Education. Students who are not yet ready for college-level coursework are often placed in developmental education courses to improve their literacy and math skills before beginning a degree or certificate program. However, only a small percentage of developmental education students continue on to college-level coursework. Reforming developmental education to accelerate students’ transition to college-level coursework and improve students’ credential or degree program completion will better ensure adults are able to get the training they need to secure a livable wage job. Poverty Action has worked with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to reform developmental education to increase program completion rates.

Integrated Basic Education Skills Training (I-BEST): I-BEST is a nationally recognized developmental education model that contextualizes adult basic education and ESL coursework by integrating it into a vocational training certificate program. I-BEST features over140 different vocational training programs that each include 45 college-level credits, a vocational certificate, and lead to family-wage jobs.

Poverty Action Policy Priority: Increase I-BEST funding

Creating WorkFirst Training Opportunities. Washington’s WorkFirst program, our state’s TANF system, strives to improve the well-being of struggling families with children by helping them reach economic security through employment. Parents receiving TANF, similar to other adults working to reenter the workforce, are most successful at reaching economic security when they have access to educational and training programs. Poverty Action has worked to expand WorkFirst education and vocational training programs so that TANF recipients are able to gain the skills they need to get living wage jobs and reach long-term economic security.

Our ongoing WorkFirst training and education priorities include:

1) Expand WorkFirst employment training programs, such as the Department of Commerce’s Community Jobs, Community Jobs Connections, Career Development, & Career Jump programs.

2) Expand the Limited English Proficiency Pathway program, which provides immigrants and refugees who are receiving TANF with a continuum of employment services. These services include ESL classes, skills training, and job placement assistance.

3) Expand funding for Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges to serve WorkFirst students.

4) Restore the post-TANF Job Career Services program, which provides cash stipends and career counseling for families exiting TANF due to employment.

5) Increase the WorkFirst vocational education training limit from one year to two years so TANF recipients are able to complete two-year training programs.

6) Dedicate State Work Study funds for students who are TANF recipients in order to help students meet their WorkFirst work requirements while also working toward a college degree.

1. Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (2012). “Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training,” retrieved at