Payton Swinford, age 22, has come a long way in a short time. As the first person in his family to go to college, Payton wasn’t sure if he was cut out for higher education. Olympic College provided an affordable local option to test the waters. After completing an associate of arts at OC in 2018, Payton transferred to Central Washington University, where he is studying History and Social Studies Teaching and Secondary Education with a minor in Political Science, and was recently appointed to the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC).
The WSAC is a nine-member council supported by a cabinet-level state agency. By statute, the Council provides strategic planning, oversight, advocacy, and program administration to support increased student success and higher levels of educational attainment in Washington, according to the council’s website.
After graduating from South Kitsap High School, Swinford was unsure what his future was going to look like, he says. “I needed a local commuter option that was affordable and realistic for myself and my family. OC was a good starting spot to see if college was right for me. It gave me the chance to try out different classes, complete my prerequisites, and see what major might be a good fit.”
Swinford’s experience at OC helped him realize he would be successful continuing his education. “Having that affordable option showed me, yes, this is something I can do and this is something I should do,” he says. “It was the perfect stepping stone to go on to a four-year school.”
It was at Central Washington University that the opportunity to serve on the WSAC came about. Swinford applied to be the student member of Central’s Board of Trustees, a position appointed by the governor. When the governor’s office interviews candidates for such board positions around the state, they keep an eye out for candidates that would be a good fit for the WSAC, Swinford says.
“They just wait for someone to stand out to them and then redirect that person to the Student Achievement Council,” he says. “Being really interested in politics and public service and policy, as well as in educational attainment, it was a perfect fit for my interests.”
Swinford is still new to the council — his term began in July and he has only attended one meeting so far — but he’s excited to roll up his sleeves and get to work.
“I think one of the main responsibilities of the student representative on the council is to be the person who is most in tune with the experience of what students are going through at that particular time,” he says. “I’m excited to bring the perspective of a transfer student and of someone who really wants to see more people have higher educational attainment.”
Swinford says he’d like to ensure people who may not think higher education is an option for them are aware that it’s never too late to go back to school.
“I want everyone to know that door is never closed,” he says. “I’d like to focus not just on the high-achieving high school student who goes directly to a four-year school and has no barriers, but to make sure we’re really looking at everyone.”
Part of the council’s role is educating people about resources available to help them attend college. Chief among those resources is the Washington College Grant, which was recently created by the state legislature to replace the State Need Grant. Starting in fall 2020, the grant will guarantee free tuition for families earning $50,000 or less per year and provide partial assistance for families making up to the state’s median income for a family of four — about $92,000.
“When we promote the new law that invested so much more money in providing debt-free college, I want to make sure we promote it more broadly so everyone knows about it — not just the PTA moms and 4.0 students. I want to make an effort to get that information to the people who need it most.”
After Swinford completes his education at Central, he hopes to become a high school history or social studies educator so he can help his own students see the opportunities that await them after high school.
“I can encourage my students and make sure they have all the tools they need to go to college or do whatever is best for their life,” he says. “And I can also do better at teaching civic responsibility and the importance of government.”
WSAC Executive Director Michael P. Meotti is excited for Swinford to join the ranks of his organization.
“Payton will offer a valuable perspective as a first-generation college student who has attended both a public four-year university and a community and technical college,” he says. “And his commitment to equity will make Payton a vital voice as we apply our equity lens to improving higher education affordability, enrollment, student support, and program completion.”