Creating Opportunities for Washington’s Students

With Washington students heading back to school, September will see Microsoft build upon the many education-related investments the company has made to date in Washington state, and consider ways of taking them even farther as we move forward.

Microsoft is committed to the future prosperity of Washington, a state where 40,000 of our employees make their homes and many raise their families. Many of our employees have children who attend our public schools and universities, providing us with a daily appreciation for the importance of public education in the state. Central to the company’s commitment to education is our belief that every child in the state should have the opportunity to build the skills needed to compete in the 21st century economy and share in Washington’s future prosperity.

However, the state faces a number of challenges. With 34.4 percent of high school students dropping out, Washington’s graduation rate ranks 42nd in the country. The state ranks only 35th in the nation in the production of Bachelor’s degrees – even though it’s projected that in just three years, two-thirds of all new jobs in Washington will require a college education.

The current state unemployment data make clear the impact that education has on people’s lives. In 2010, Washington’s unemployment rate for those who lack a high school diploma was 15.5 percent. For those who have graduated from high school, the unemployment rate was 10.1 percent. For those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, it was only 5.1 percent. Now more than ever, an investment in education pays off.

If all – and not just some – of Washington’s youth of today are to compete for the jobs of tomorrow, we need to close this skills gap. As a company, Microsoft has worked in a number of ways to create more access to educational opportunities. We’ve helped to found important public-private partnerships and have invested more than $35 million dollars in recent years to help build student skills across the K-12 and higher education spectrum.

We started down this path five years ago by focusing on helping to improve math in middle schools. We invested $6 million in the multi-year Microsoft Math Partnership, which has helped eight Washington school districts improve their success rates in middle school math. We look forward to sharing new results from this partnership this month, which shed light on broader steps that may be worth considering across the state.

We have also focused on improving teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and math more broadly. This includes a $6 million investment to help launch the non-profit Washington STEM center. The center is continuing to make important grants to spur innovation in the STEM disciplines in the state’s schools. We’ve also commissioned a national survey among parents and college students about the role of STEM education – the results of which are available today for the first time in this press release on the Microsoft News Center.

Finally, we’ve focused on creating more capacity for students to go to college by contributing $25 million over the next five years to the new public-private Washington Opportunity Scholarship. We look forward to joining the scholarship administrator to announce the final scholarship details soon, in time to begin sending out the first scholarship awards by December.

All of these steps have given us additional insights into the types of policies that can help further improve education in Washington State.

As we look to the next legislative session in Olympia, we’re especially interested in new legislative steps that will strengthen K-12 education. It is imperative that we stop the yearly debates in this state over quality and funding. Given the current economic crisis faced nationally and locally, it is more important than ever to find a long term sustainable solution to education quality and funding in the state to ensure that every student receives an education for the 21st century. Together with ongoing work to support higher education, this will be vital to fulfilling Washington’s commitment to the next generation of students in our state.

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