Funds help high-tech students

THE OLYMPIANApril 6, 2012 

The deadline is fast approaching to apply for a new college scholarship aimed at students who major in a variety of high-tech fields.

The state is prepared to award 3,000 scholarships of $1,000 each to high school seniors and college students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, math and health care. The application deadline is April 16.

The so-called Opportunity Scholarship grew out of a bill passed by the 2011 Legislature. It represents a partnership between the state and the private sector, and is designed to encourage students to pursue bachelor’s degrees in the high-tech field.

It’s one of the easiest of all college scholarships to apply for: Applicants must meet a family income level of no more than $102,000 for a family of four, have a 2.75 GPA, then fill out the federal student-aid paperwork and the scholarship application.

Granted, $1,000 doesn’t go too far toward funding a college education. One year of undergraduate tuition and fees at the University of Washington costs $10,500, excluding living expenses and books.

But the scholarship is renewable for up to five years, which boosts its overall value to $5,000. The initial scholarship fund consists of $50 million in private company donations – Microsoft and Boeing kicked in $25 million each – and $5 million from the state Legislature.

The board reviewing the scholarship applications includes some high-powered business leaders, including Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh and Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal. The board members hope to encourage other high profile businesses in the state to contribute to the fund with the goal of $1 billion in private money by the end of the decade to create a scholarship endowment.

The law caps the state matching fund at $50 million a year, but the higher state funding level requires an uptick in state revenue collections.

The overarching goal of the Opportunity Scholarship is to increase the number of college graduates motivated and educated to pursue high-tech careers.

The scholarship program is off to a modest start, but could grow into something special in the years ahead.

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