Legislation passed in the final hours of the 2011 session establishes two new public/private-funded Opportunity Scholarship accounts for low- and middle-income students enrolled in high employer demand studies in Washington.
The new law also establishes a new program to fund institution proposals designed to increase the number of older adults seeking bachelor’s degrees in high employer demand fields.
The Opportunity Scholarship Act (ESHB 2088) is similar to one of the recommendations of the Governor-appointed Higher Education Funding Task Force – convened last fall to study and propose new alternatives for higher education funding in Washington. The new law had the backing of key state businesses, including Boeing and Microsoft, and broad legislative support.
One of the new scholarship accounts can begin providing scholarships to eligible students as of Dec. 1, 2011, assuming the state and private entities each contribute at least $5 million to the fund. Students enrolled in the two- and four-year institutions will be eligible to receive the scholarships.
The other account is designed to provide a longer-term scholarship endowment fund which will generate additional money for scholarships over time. The act contains a number of restrictions on the use of this fund tied to state higher education appropriation levels, state contributions to the fund, and reaching a funding base of $20 million.
A third provision in the new act establishes an Opportunity Expansion Program, also funded by public/private contributions, designed to fund institutional proposals that directly increase the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in high employer-demand and other fields by Washington high school graduates and adults returning to college.
A seven-member, Governor-appointed board, which includes three legislators and four foundation and business and industry members, will provide oversight for the programs established by the act. A program administrator under contract with the board will provide staff support, including publicizing the program, distributing scholarship awards, and ensuring maximum returns on fund investments.