As states continue to cut higher education and student financial aid budgets, innovative thinking is required to keep things on track. It’s with this in mind that Washington State created the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a public-private scholarship fund that is set to help students with $1,000 annual college scholarships.
Boeing, Microsoft and Other Companies Jumping on Board
When the program was initially announced in state legislation created in June 2011, Boeing and Microsoft were quick to jump on board with pledges of tens of millions of dollars. Now, Governor Christine Gregoire is continuing to press the program forward, with plans to have a $1 billion endowment by the end of the decade.
Eligibility for these college scholarships is rather lax, and students from relatively well-off families should have little trouble qualifying. According to a press release, college students from families that bring in incomes that total up to 125% of the state’s median income will qualify for the scholarships. As the median income is around $80,000 for a family in Washington, this means that students with parents bringing in a combined $100,000 or so should qualify.
The state plans to match every donation to the Opportunity College Scholarships fund, which essentially doubles the amount donated. The annual cap for state contribution matching is set to $50 million, but obviously the fund will accept donations after this point. Donors can choose whether they want their funds to go to the endowment, or directly to one-off college scholarships.
Will the Additional Funds Cover Tuition Increases?
Criticism has mounted that while these college scholarships are a welcome addition to the variety of sources of student financial aid that are available to students, they will actually help very little when it comes to covering the increases in tuition those colleges and universities have planned for upcoming years. Back in June, Chris Grygiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer covered the topic in depth, and showed that although the $100 million raised for the new college scholarships was significant, it paled in comparison to the $500 million in education cuts that the state had previously enacted.
Because of these cuts, schools such as the University of Washington and Washington State University expected to raise tuition anywhere from $1,400 to $1,600 in 2012-2013, with more increases certain to come. That makes the $1,000 Opportunity Scholarship a nice gesture, but still leaves college students holding the bag when it comes to paying for the increase in tuition.
It’s no secret that colleges and universities will raise tuition whenever they feel there is an opportunity to bleed a bit more money out of anyone; students, parents, state governments and federal government are fair game. Washington’s Opportunity Scholarships are helpful, but students must ensure that they continue to pressure governments to take real action on tuition increases. Without a way to rein in tuition, the value of these college scholarships will diminish to virtually nothing very quickly.