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William H. Gates Sr. - Washington State Achievers Program Inaugural Announcement

June 27, 2001
Remarks by William H. Gates Sr., co-chair; Deborah Wilds, program officer, Education; Bob Craves, CEO, Washington Education Foundation

Good morning and thank you for coming today. I am Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Today we gather to recognize a group of outstanding students – students who have overcome challenges, who have persevered, who are leaders in their schools and communities, and for whom college seemed an unattainable goal. And all of these students are from our home state – Washington.

Many of you in this room know the value of a college degree. You may have a degree, even a graduate degree, or perhaps you work in one of this state's institutions of higher education. But unfortunately a college degree is out of reach for too many of our students.

A recent College Board study revealed that more than 40 percent of children from high-income families received a bachelor's degree or higher within five years of high school graduation. Compare that with only six percent of those in the lowest income group who receive a college degree immediately after high school.

And the economic costs of not having a college degree are huge. College graduates earn significantly more than high school graduates, and the earnings gap between high school graduates and college graduates has doubled in the past 20 years.

The problem is clear; the solution is murkier. How do we increase access to higher education for low-income students AND ensure that they have the support to complete a four-year college degree.

We have taken one small step toward addressing this problem in Washington state with the Washington State Achievers Program. We designed this program specifically to address the problem of access to higher education.

The Achievers Program is working intensely with 16 Washington high schools to ensure that every student at these schools is college-ready.

It begins early, starting in the middle schools, getting students excited, interested and aware of college opportunities. Preparation continues in high school, and then we help eliminate financial barriers to higher education and provide ongoing support and mentorship to the students to help them successfully complete their college degree. That is the thrust of the Achievers Program.

For us at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this is a natural. As I mentioned earlier, we already have made a significant commitment to improving access to higher education through the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. Personally, for me, Bill and Melinda, ensuring that talented, motivated students have the opportunity to pursue a college education is incredibly important.

In a little while we'll have the opportunity to meet some of these students seated behind me and I think that the value of having access to higher education will become clear from their stories.

But now, I want to introduce Deborah Wilds, our program officer who oversees the foundation's scholarship and access to higher education work.

Good morning, and thank you, Bill.

When we decided to connect our work with high schools to our work in higher education, we looked long and hard at what the need was and how we could fill it.

It was important to us that we build on the research and existing knowledge base about what works. From these conversations came the Achievers program.

It combines the key elements that work together to ensure student preparation for and success in college. These elements are (1) early college awareness, beginning in the middle school years; (2) high school redesign, creating small, personalized high schools with high expectations; (3) removing financial barriers to higher education – or providing scholarships; and (4) ensuring that every student has a mentor to help guide him or her on the path to success.

That is the Achievers Program. It may sound straight-forward and logical, but it is truly remarkable. To our knowledge, it is the only program of its kind that brings these fundamentals components together.

And the name ACHIEVERS reflects our commitment to recognize that there are multiple ways of measuring talent and predicting success. We've broadened the criteria, and these students will be proof of that.

Every year, for the next nine years, the Achievers Program will give 500 four-year scholarships to low-income juniors from the 16 partner high schools who demonstrate great potential and commitment to continuing their education. This year, the first year of the scholarships, we are giving an additional 500 scholarships to recently graduated seniors.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is proud to have committed $100 million to this scholarship program.

And fundamental to its success, is the Washington Education Foundation. Under the leadership of Bob Craves and Ann Ramsay- Jenkins, the WEF is leading the way to ensure that all Washington state students, regardless of ability to pay, have access to higher education. It is the WEF that is administering the scholarship portion of the Achievers program.

It is my pleasure to introduce Bob Craves, the CEO of the Washington Education Foundation.

Thank you Deborah. On behalf of the Washington Education Foundation, I would like to salute the students who are here with us today and all of the Achievers Scholars who earned this honor with hard work and determination.

As one of the first thousand students to receive this award, you will be the role models for the students who will follow in your footsteps in the years to come.

A few years ago, when Governor Locke formed the 2020 Commission of the Future of Post-Secondary Education, the group sought to -- over the following two decades -- establish a culture in the state of Washington that honors learning, teaching and research. The commission found that the state was not doing enough to encourage students to pursue higher education.

When Ann Ramsay-Jenkins and I looked at the statistics – the large number of students in our schools who receive free or reduced lunch, the relatively small number of low-income students attending college – we banded together and created the Washington Education Foundation. We believe that higher education should be a possibility for all children across the state.

With generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations, we are helping ambitious students - who otherwise could not afford to go to college – realize their dreams.

And we commend the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for innovatively combining a focus on small schools with a commitment to increasing access to higher education. Personalized learning environments, high expectations, support and scholarships are a package for success for today's high school students.

To the students here today, I say congratulations, and I hope that you seize this opportunity. That you use this as a springboard to rewarding jobs, fulfilling careers and remarkable contributions to your community.

Bill…

[Bill Gates] Now it's time to hear from the students. All of the Washington State Achievers Scholars went through a rigorous selection process. And I had the opportunity to witness a small part of that – a group interview that had teams of students creating lego statues.

I can assure all of you that though we may have few sculptors in this group of scholars, we have many creative people and an equal number of born leaders.

We've invited two representatives from each of the 16 high schools to join us today – and though we don't have time to hear from all of them, we have asked a few to tell us their stories.

First, I'd like to introduce Luke Atay from Stevenson High School.

[Luke's story]

Thank you Luke. Next, I'd like to introduce Monica Prado from Davis High School in Yakima.

[Monica's story]

Thank you Monica. Next is Seth Sather from West Valley High School in Spokane.

[Seth's story]

Thank you Seth. Finally, we have Trisha Johnson from Harry S. Truman High School in Federal Way.

[Trisha's story]

Thank you. Your stories are inspiring and I look forward to tracking your progress as you embark on this next journey. You all have worked incredibly hard to get here … by concentrating on your studies, making commitments to your community and deciding to pursue a college degree. It clearly hasn't always been easy, and we applaud your perseverance.

Before we adjourn, I'd like to thank Bob Craves and Ann Ramsay- Jenkins for their leadership at the Washington Education Foundation. I'd also like to thank the school principals and superintendents who are helping to really make their schools into the kind of small, personalized learning environments that we know benefit all students.

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge all of the Washington colleges, community colleges and universities that will be an integral part of making this program a success. These students will need your encouragement and support, and we look to all of you to provide that.

Thanks again to all of our scholars – who came from as close as Tacoma and as far as Tonasket. We wish you all the best of luck.

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