The View from Washington State: Our Investments in Education are Among our Best

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a new monthly series from Microsoft called “The View from Washington State,” which will appear at 6 a.m. PT on the third Thursday of every month. The View from Washington State will provide insight and commentary on topics and trends of importance to technology, education, corporate citizenship and public policy in Washington State.

In the global information economy, opportunities for individuals and communities directly depend on the quality of the education, training and learning opportunities available to them. Nowhere is that more true than right here in Washington State, where our state economy is increasingly reliant on innovation sectors such as computer science, green energy, advanced manufacturing and the life sciences.

That’s why one of Microsoft’s top priorities in the state is to help expand the range and improve the results of educational opportunities – especially in the subject areas of math and science – available to Washington’s citizens. Our goal is to help people develop a commitment to life-long learning that embraces mathematics and the sciences and endures through public lectures and community events. That commitment begins with early learning programs, continues through a strong K-12 system and carries on to high quality post-secondary education.

At each of these levels, Microsoft works with educators, elected officials and community leaders to provide resources and support policies that will ensure that all Washington citizens can access and develop the skills necessary to succeed in a workplace – and a world – that is increasingly complex, technologically driven and globally competitive. And more often than not, we join forces with other organizations in order to maximize our impact.

Sometimes our role is to provide financial support to strong initiatives that are already working to improve early learning opportunities, such as Thrive By Five and United Way of King County, or, as with Pacific Science Center and Town Hall, we provide support to help bring compelling scientific programming to the public.

Sometimes our role is to provide policy voice and leadership with advocacy groups such as Excellent Schools Now coalition, a group that supports meaningful education reforms to increase student achievement, close the achievement gap and prepare students to be college and career-ready.

We are also willing to step up and help create game changing new approaches and public-private partnerships. We joined Boeing, The Gates Foundation, McKinstry and a handful of other organizations as founding members of Washington STEM, a statewide organization focused on driving systemic changes that accelerate student achievement in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The creativity and critical thinking skills that come with a foundation in STEM are in high demand, for all kinds of jobs, all across our state. Washington STEM was created to help ensure Washington’s students are equipped and inspired to fill the jobs of tomorrow.

Another example is the creation of the Washington Opportunity Scholarship Program, a new public-private partnership to help increase the number of low- and middle-income Washington state students earning bachelor’s degrees, especially in high demand STEM fields. The program was created by the Washington Legislature in 2011 to address rising tuition at state colleges and universities, based on the recommendations of the Higher Education Funding Task Force, chaired by Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith. The program is endowed by a public-private partnership and seeded with $5 million in state funds. Boeing and Microsoft have committed a combined $50 million. In May, more than 3,000 Washington students were awarded the inaugural scholarships.
 
Finally, there are times when our company is uniquely positioned to make a meaningful difference in the lives of unemployed and underemployed people whose skills are either no longer relevant for existing job roles or insufficient for career  growth. As part of our company’s national Elevate America and Elevate Veterans initiatives, we provide training vouchers and grants to nonprofit organizations that help individuals develop their technology skills and obtain certifications to increase their employment potential.

All told, Microsoft’s annual corporate contributions to education programs in Washington total more than $27.3 million. We consider these donations to be among the best investments we make.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on Aug. 20 to include the latest data on Microsoft’s annual corporate contributions to Washington State education programs.

About the Author

Director of Community Affairs, Microsoft