Washington's largest private employers step up to give more state students opportunity to earn bachelor's degrees.
SEATTLE - June 6, 2011 - The Boeing Company and Microsoft Corp. today announced a joint commitment to support efforts to increase the number of Washington students earning bachelor's degrees. The state's two largest private employers are pledging $25 million apiece over the next five years to the new public-private Washington Opportunity Scholarship program and endowment signed into law today by Gov. Christine Gregoire. Together with matching state contributions under the new program, this will raise $100 million for scholarships for low- and middle-income students, as a first step toward creating a billion-dollar endowment by the end of this decade.
"These new contributions help forge a partnership between the public and private sectors to put higher education on a stronger financial footing and enable more students to go to college," said Microsoft general counsel and senior vice president Brad Smith, who chaired a Higher Education Funding Task Force appointed by Gov. Gregoire last year. "Given tougher state budget climates here and across the country, we need new and creative steps to ensure that our colleges remain open to talented students from all economic backgrounds. This new initiative gives our state and our students a new opportunity to develop the skills that a globally competitive economy will require."
"Technology leadership and innovation define and distinguish Washington state, and we need creative solutions to ensure businesses across the state have a pipeline of talent to remain competitive in a global economy," said Jim Albaugh, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO. "The reforms approved by state lawmakers, including this public-private endowment, represent a very positive step toward ensuring our young people have economic and intellectual opportunity into the future."
At the beginning of this year, Gov. Gregoire's Higher Education Funding Task Force recommended to the legislature the creation of a public-private higher education endowment. Under the new legislation (HB 2088) spearheaded by Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, the state will create a nonprofit Opportunity Scholarship Board to oversee two new scholarship funds. The first of these funds will begin providing scholarships as early as December 2011 to state students who intend to pursue bachelor's degrees at public universities and colleges in Washington, while the second will build a long-term endowment with earnings that will provide an ongoing source of financial aid.
The board, made up of private sector representatives appointed by the governor and legislators, will be responsible for establishing student eligibility criteria, application process and scholarship amounts. Students from families with incomes of up to 125 percent of the state median income will be eligible to apply for the scholarships, which will be focused primarily on high-demand fields such as healthcare, manufacturing, science, mathematics and technology.
Initially, at least 50 percent of the donations will go to providing immediate scholarships, but after $20 million is raised for that account, donors will have the option of specifying whether the money will go to immediate scholarships or the long-term scholarship endowment. The state will match private contributions to the two scholarship accounts beginning in 2014 with a cap of $50 million annually. The goal is to raise $1 billion during the coming decade, based on a combination of private donations and matching contributions from the state.
"Washington is the first state in the nation to create a scholarship program like this," Probst said. "We hope that other companies will follow Microsoft and Boeing's incredible example, so we can offer 10,000 scholarships or more before Christmas of this year."
"The economic downturn has caused direct state support to shrink over the recent past," said Laura Peterson, Boeing vice president for State & Local Government Relations in the Northwest, and a member of the governor's Higher Education Funding Task Force. "Tuition increases are playing a greater role in funding our public colleges and universities. The new Washington Opportunity Scholarship program will help reduce the burden of these tuition increases on students and their families."
"We recognize that this isn't the complete answer for giving our state's students access to higher education," Smith said. "We must find a way to shore up state support for higher education in good times and bad. But this is a critical step in the right direction."
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Elson S. Floyd, president, Washington State University
"In these difficult economic times, we need outstanding leadership from both the private and public sectors to preserve access to higher education and to educate the students who will drive economic growth and innovation in Washington. Through this agreement, Boeing and Microsoft are stepping forward to provide that leadership. Washington's future - and the individual futures of so many of our students - will be brighter as a result."
Phyllis Wise, president, University of Washington
"It is gratifying to see the business community in our state investing in the future of Washington's young citizens through this endowment. The shift in who pays for college in Washington - transferring from the state to the student - simply cannot occur without a robust financial aid support system. This endowment presents a new opportunity for all Washingtonians, regardless of economic circumstance, to reach their personal goals and achieve their dreams. We are all deeply grateful to Microsoft and Boeing for taking the lead, and we hope many others will follow."
Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor
"Higher education is the door to opportunity, enabling people to access new ideas, new technologies and new careers. For many Washingtonians, financial aid is the key to that door. With the establishment of this endowment, more Washingtonians will hold the key."
Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, ranking member of the House Higher Education Committee
"This is a fantastic opportunity for a public-private partnership, where the business community will now be a participant in the future of public higher education. I look forward to working with Microsoft and Boeing and other employers now and in the future on continuing to expand opportunities for young people to go to college."
Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, chair of the House Higher Education Committee
"I really applaud the leadership by the top executives of Microsoft and Boeing. They have worked closely with us to create this new endowment. That industry leadership will be key to our ability to educate ourselves out of this economic hole."
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee
"This bill will help ensure students have access to a quality college education regardless of their family's income. We're blessed with some of the best universities in the country, and we can't afford to let their quality plummet if we want Washington businesses hiring Washington students."
Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, Majority Leader
"I couldn't imagine a more productive example of the private sector stepping up in the right way at the right time. This addresses a critical gap - the need for four-year degrees is more crucial to employment than ever, while at the same time our declining state revenues are pushing the cost of a college education out of the reach of many of our residents."