As we close the year, I’m delighted to share some encouraging momentum from the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS), a unique public-private partnership that helps low- and middle-income students earn their bachelor’s degrees in the state’s high-demand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and health care fields. Based on their annual report to the legislature released this month, we’re seeing emerging evidence of the program’s long-term success.
In the last six years, more than 8,400 unique scholars have received financial and programmatic support from the program. Of the most recently awarded class of scholars, 72 percent are first-generation college students, 73 percent are students of color, and 60 percent of new scholars are female.
The impact on our region is far-reaching. Year-over-year growth means increasing steps forward in a tech-fueled workforce economy that reflects the diversity of our state. But beyond the numbers, the impact is a deeply personal one for the thousands of WSOS scholarship recipients. Two scholars, Fabiola and Nick, explain the benefit in their own words in this short video:
Local hiring managers are also waiting to recruit WSOS graduates, with more than nine out of 10 recent graduates finding employment within nine months of graduation. In all, 88 percent of WSOS graduates employed in their field of study remained in Washington state, which is critically important as we look to increase and diversify the pipeline of talent in the region.
A recent TechAlliance study shows that at current rates, our state’s colleges and universities will only be able to supply 27 percent of skilled STEM workers needed around the state by 2025. Simply put, our local talent pool must expand to keep up with our fast-growing digital economy. This is why we need more programs and partnerships like WSOS.
At the same time, our state continues to grapple with reliable, high-quality education solutions for all students, including those from low- and middle-income backgrounds. Without proven and consistent onramps to STEM training, we risk leaving behind bright, capable scholars who are surrounded by home-grown innovation, but lack the opportunity to be a part of that success.
What makes WSOS unique is the way it was founded: driven by visionary government leadership out of Olympia, combined with a commitment from local companies, including Microsoft, and private contributions to provide financial support. Under the program, the state matches private donations dollar-for-dollar. This force multiplier effect means that by the end of the 2017-2018 school year, students will have received more than $50 million in scholarships.
Recently, the WSOS board voted to extend the program and its commitment to students with a goal of funding 16,000 scholars by 2025. The program extension also includes a new commitment to double-down on support services for scholars, including expansion of WSOS program officers, industry mentorship and a new peer-mentorship program that helps younger students learn in a small group setting.
As a founding partner of WSOS, Microsoft is a big believer in the power of collaborative support. We’ve invested $35 million to WSOS to date, and we feel that it’s worth highlighting significant benchmarks from a partnership operating at a scale that is unusual across the country. It’s a great example of how smart policy and a willingness to invest in innovation can produce tangible results, and we feel that the WSOS model could be a great fit potentially in other states as well.
We believe it’s up to all of us to craft forward-looking partnerships so that we can meaningfully begin to address shared community challenges. By joining forces, we can help our next generation of students connect to the education and career opportunities they deserve.