Monday, December 10, 2012

21st century careers emphasized in scholarships

New-century industries are clamoring like nobody's business for more graduates in the myriad fields of health care and high technology.  Washington has its work cut out in vying with other states and nations for economic growth and development in these growing - and growing and growing - arenas. So it's good news whenever word comes of stronger financial assistance for college and university students majoring either in some sort of health-care discipline, or in one of the realms of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Created a few years ago, the Washington Opportunity Scholarship program is helping these men and women who want someday to nail down one of these high-demand, big-paying careers. An item in recent Seattle Times report says that in the 2012-2013 school year, "… nearly 1,900 Washington students will get (one of these) $5,000 scholarships to pursue" STEM or health-care degrees. In fact, that amount represents five times the amount of scholarship dollars that selected college and university students have been receiving in these scholarships.

State Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, is singled out in the Times article. Hunter calls this more robust scholarship "terrific," and he goes on to say that, "the IQ of kids isn't determined by their family income - if they can imagine they can go to college, they've got more motivation." 

The scholarship is open to Washington college juniors, seniors and fifth-year students who live here in the Evergreen State, maintain at least a 2.75 GPA, and have a family-income no more than 125 percent of the median-family-income level (no more than $102,200 for a family of four). Interested citizens must send in the Federal Application for Free Student Aid. The newspaper article points out that the "application for new awards will be available on Monday, Jan. 7, and the deadline is Monday, Feb. 18. Students who currently receive the scholarship must renew by July 15." 

You can see from the maximum-income level for applicants that the Washington Opportunity Scholarships are aimed to a great and specific extent at helping students in middle-income families - folks who don't have all the money in the world but who may not qualify for financial-aid programs. These are the students who increasingly are being left with no choice but to plunge into devastating debt to pay soaring tuition tabs. 

A renewable scholarship, this financial assistance can be used for up to five years of college. Further, the Times article states that, "Most of the scholarship money comes from Microsoft and Boeing, which together have contributed $50 million. The state has contributed $5 million." 

House Democrats in the legislative session earlier this year championed additional strategies for increasing access to higher education. Senate Bill 5982 creates the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation to pursue industry-university research. The objective is creation of a stronger connection between the world's aerospace industry and our state's colleges and universities. Senate Bill 6141 emphasizes support for the continuing education and training of employees. Workers and employers can voluntarily create joint savings accounts to advance their pursuit of 21st century careers. 

When the 2013 legislative session starts in January, expect House Democrats to invest more of this same STEM and health-care educational emphasis on the education and training of students for jobs in these strong, up-and-coming industries.