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Microsoft, Boeing pledge $50 million to scholarship program

Seattle Times
Microsoft and Boeing have pledged $50 million toward a new program that will provide scholarships to Washington undergraduate students majoring in high-demand fields. The program, which was authorized by legislation signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire today and is partly funded with money from the state, will provide as many as 10,000 scholarships of $1,000 apiece when it first begins giving out money this December. The public-private scholarship partnership, dubbed the Opportunity Scholarship, is aiming to soften the blow of double-digit tuition increases at all of Washington state’s higher-education institutions this fall. The Legislature cut about $500 million of funding to colleges and universities for the next two years, essentially shifting a greater portion of the cost of going to a public school to students. “When states hit hard economic times, the higher-education budget gets hit harder than anything else,” said Brad Smith, vice president of Microsoft and a member of the governor’s task force on higher-education funding. “Creating a long-term sustainable foundation for higher education is something that is badly needed, and something no state in this country has done.” Although the Legislature also boosted grant money for the neediest students by 32 percent over the next biennium, it slashed the state work-study program by about $20 million for the next two years and cut $1.3 million in funding for a program that awards scholarships to the top 1 percent of Washington high-school students who stay in-state for their college education. Also today, Gregoire signed into law a bill that gives the state’s universities and its one college, The Evergreen State College, authority to set a higher tuition rate than that approved by the Legislature. “These two bills fit together to create a stronger foundation for higher education in the state,” Smith said. The task force had recommended that the schools get tuition-setting authority, and proposed the idea of a public-private scholarship account, when it concluded its work earlier this year. Who qualifies The new scholarship program is designed to help both low- and middle-income students — those whose family incomes are up to $97,500 for a family of four — who are going into high-demand fields such as health care, engineering and science. The program represents $25 million each from Boeing and Microsoft, which will be donated over five years. It establishes two accounts, one of which will be used to immediately provide scholarship money beginning in December, and a second account that will form an endowment to provide a stable funding source for future scholarships. The state has contributed $5 million for 2011-13, and will begin matching private donations after state revenue collections reach a certain threshold, or in 2014, whichever is later. Another way to help The legislation also creates a new program, the Opportunity Expansion Program, that will award money to Washington’s higher-education institutions to help them produce more graduates in high-demand fields. Under the legislation, companies eligible for the state research and development tax credit can choose to donate that money to the Opportunity Expansion Program, instead of taking the tax credit. “It tries to have a short-term impact, but also create something that is sustainable from a long-term perspective,” Smith said. The accounts are separate 501(c)3 charities, so cannot be touched by the state for any other purpose. And people who contribute will be eligible for federal tax write-offs. The scholarships will be offered to Washington residents who attend a four-year or community college and are pursuing a baccalaureate degree. It has not yet been decided if the money can be used at private schools in Washington. On Thursday, the University of Washington Board of Regents will meet to consider whether to raise tuition by 16 percent or more. A 16 percent increase would take UW tuition from $8,122 to $9,400, not including several hundred dollars in additional fees that students pay.
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