Students can get up to $22,500 to pursue technology and health-care careers, through the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship. It's available to those from low- and middle-income households, and opens to applicants Jan. 3.

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If you’re a Washington college student studying science, technology or health care, put this one on your calendar: The application period opens Jan. 3 for the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, the state’s most generous scholarship for students studying in those fields.

The scholarship program is funded with public and private money, and it has helped nearly 3,400 Washington students earn a bachelor’s degree since it began giving out award money in 2012, a new state report says. The scholarship is aimed at low- and middle-income students, and grants them up to $22,500 over a maximum of five years to earn their bachelor’s or community college degrees in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and health-care fields. The deadline for applications is Feb. 28, and WSOS officials expect to award 1,850 scholarships this year.

The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS) is the only program of its kind in the nation because it’s “trying to impact workforce outcomes with scholarship dollars,” and because private donations are matched with public dollars, said WSOS Executive Director Naria Santa Lucia.

The report says it’s both helping produce more employees for high-paying, high-demand fields, and also working to close gender and race/ethnicity gaps. Sixty percent of the scholars are women, 73 percent are students of color and 72 percent are the first in their families to go to college, according to the annual report to the state Legislature, released this month. 

It’s also reaching a larger percentage of underrepresented minorities (Hispanic/Latino, African American, American Indian and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific islander) than it did in its early years. This academic year, 42 percent of new students given a WSOS award were underrepresented minorities, compared to 16 percent in 2012-13, the first year that it awarded money, according to the report.

WSOS helps students whose families make up to 125 percent of the state median family income, or $114,500 for a family of four — a number chosen to help middle-income students who often don’t qualify for aid because their family’s income is too high.

Bailey Griffin, a junior at the University of Washington, is one of the recipients. Griffin is majoring in civil engineering and plans to go into construction — two male-dominated fields.

Griffin grew up in Oroville, a small town in North Central Washington, and she needed help paying for college. But she described WSOS as “so much more than just a scholarship,” because it helped her make connections in her chosen field.

WSOS organized events on campus that helped her meet other engineering students when she first arrived. It connected her with professionals in the industry, and helped her find an internship in construction, where only about 10 percent of employees are women. “It’s making sure students have the skills to really excel and recognize the importance of professional development while in college,” she said. This year, she’s working as a mentor for younger students who have received the award.

The program’s major private funding comes from Boeing, Microsoft, Rubens Family Foundation and the Ballmer Group, and those donations are matched by taxpayer dollars. By the end of 2018-19, it will have awarded $64 million in scholarships, half of which comes from taxpayers.

The legislative status report says 94 percent of students who received the scholarship and graduated are now either employed or in graduate school. Nine percent have earned a postgraduate degree (a master’s, doctoral or professional degree). About 79 percent were able to find work after searching for less than three months.

Four-fifths of the recipients continued to live in Washington after earning their degree. The largest percentage, about one-third, works in health care, and 17 percent work in technology. Other popular fields for WSOS recipients include engineering (12 percent) and science or research (8 percent). Their median annual gross salary is $61,000.

The scholarship application opens for the 2019-20 academic year on Jan. 3. For more information, or to apply, go to www.waopportunityscholarship.org

Later this spring, the program will expand to cover skills programs at state community and technical colleges. A separate scholarship application will be rolled out this spring for students who want to apply, Santa Lucia said.