Keeping our jobs and students

In Wednesday’s editorial we outlined the findings of a report by the Boston Consulting Group that found that while Washington is producing a healthy number of jobs in technology fields, very few residents born in the state, only 9 in 100, are filling those positions.

The report, “Opportunity For All: Investing in Washington State’s STEM Education Pipeline,” calls for investment by the state and others in early learning, K-12 education, the transition to college, post-secondary education and career coaching.

One crucial component in that investment is the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship program, which seeks to encourage and support students who choose to study in fields related to science, technology, engineering, math and health care. Launched in 2011 and preparing now to accept applications in early January for its fourth year, the scholarship is open to state residents with a high school diploma or GED whose families are at or below 125 percent of the state median income, $104,000 for a family of four. Students also must be studying one of 367 majors related to STEM or health care fields and must have a 2.75 grade point average. The scholarship, over a maximum five years, is worth up to $22,500, beginning with $2,500 grants in the first two years, $5,000 once a major is declared and up to $7,500 for a high-demand major. Those are significant numbers as tuitions continue to rise and make higher education less attainable for low- and middle-income families.

Word is getting out among young women and minorities. Of its applicants last year, 60 percent were female and 53 percent identified themselves as persons of color. Nine percent of high school applicants last year were from Snohomish County.

The intent, said Naria Santa Lucia, executive director for Opportunity, is to lift families out of poverty, encourage women and minorities to study for careers they might not have considered and place graduates in well-paying careers in STEM and health care fields where demand is high.

“By 2018, 80 percent of available jobs will be in STEM or health care,” Santa Lucia said.

As evidence of the eagerness of tech companies to see the pool of state job applicants increased, Microsoft and Boeing have each pledged $25 million to the scholarship fund, which the state has committed to matching dollar-for-dollar. Opportunity is continuing its campaign for donations from individuals and corporations, specifically those who might soon benefit from the creation of these graduates.

The program does more than offer students a scholarship and a wish of good luck; it tracks students’ academic progress, can match them with mentors in their field of study, then work with them after graduation to find a job in their field.

The scholarship program’s care in selecting its scholars and offering assistance during their studies already is showing fruit, even with just three years of data. To date, of those students who earned scholarships in the program’s first two years, 1,012 have earned bachelor’s degrees. Of those students awarded a scholarship in the second year, 83 percent have either graduated or re-enrolled for the 2014-15 academic year.

Of those who earned degrees, 65 percent are employed in their field of study, compared to the national average of 47 percent who found work in their field. And of those working in their chosen career, 89 percent are living in Washington state.

This is how we keep our students and our jobs right here.

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