The Boeing Company and Microsoft have announced pledges of $25 million each over the next five years to support the recently established Washington Opportunity Scholarship program and endowment, a public-private initiative designed to help low- and middle-income students earn bachelor's degrees at public universities and colleges in the state.
The contributions from Washington's two largest private employers will be matched by the state — the first step toward the creation of what many hope will be a billion-dollar endowment by the end of the decade. With both a short-term scholarship fund and a long-term endowment to provide an ongoing source of income, the program aims to award its first scholarships by the end of the year, primarily to students interested in high-demand fields such as health care, manufacturing, science, math, and technology.
At the beginning of the year, Governor Christine Gregoire's Higher Education Funding Task Force recommended to the state legislature that it create a public-private higher education endowment. Over the next few months, the governor and state legislators will appoint a board comprised of private-sector representatives to develop an application process, determine scholarship amounts, and establish student eligibility criteria.
"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 the Higher Education Funding Task Force. "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."