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Gates Foundation helps postsecondary

Highline High School conducts their 2014 graduation ceremony at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington on June 16, 2014. Photo courtesy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Gates grant aims to boost WA college attendance

The goal: 70% of high school graduates headed to college by 2035

Gates Foundation helps postsecondary

Author Angela Jones, Director, Bill &b Melinda Gates Foundation Washington State.

Nearly 90% of students in Washington state say they hope to continue their education after high school, but only 50% of graduates today enroll in postsecondary programs that can set them on a path toward the future they want.

I’m excited to share an update about one of our Washington State team’s largest efforts to help close that gap.

Locally led solutions

As someone who has lived, worked in, or traveled to virtually every corner of Washington state, I have met so many hard-working people who are committed to giving back to their local communities. That’s something that unites us all. At the same time, I’ve also seen local towns and counties grapple with challenges and demonstrate strengths that are unique to their region. The pathways to opportunity may look different depending on where a student lives.

We believe we need locally led and designed solutions to truly make an impact.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce the four regional partnerships that will be part of Horizons, a Gates Foundation grant program focused on strengthening local partnerships to help more students successfully transition from high school into a two- or four-year degree program or apprenticeship.

Through Horizons, we’re betting big on the local schools, colleges, and organizations that know their communities best.

Four regions

Our four Horizons partnerships are spread across Washington state – with one on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas, another in South King County, a third supporting rural school districts in Southwest Washington, and one covering the Palouse region.

While they are exploring solutions that will serve all students, they are especially focused on serving students who face the biggest barriers to opportunity, including students from rural and low-income communities, and Black, Latino, and Indigenous students.

Gates Foundation helps postsecondary

Graphic courtesy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Each Horizons region features a “backbone” organization – which could be a school district, educational service district (ESD), or nonprofit – that coordinates the local partnership. Other partners include K-12 school districts, higher education institutions, and workforce, government, and community-based organizations (CBOs).

In addition to grant funding, each Horizons partnership will receive technical assistance to learn more about programs that are proven to help students take the next step after graduation. Technical assistance providers will also help regions build their capacity to access, analyze, and apply data so they can refine programs to meet student needs.

To jumpstart this work, each Horizons partnership received an initial planning grant from the Gates Foundation to work with these technical assistance providers to finalize their partnership’s goals and implementation plan. Horizons partnerships will receive additional funding when their implementation plans are finalized this fall.

A focus on high-quality advising

While each Horizons partnership will explore a range of solutions to help students take the next step after high school, they will all prioritize efforts to expand and improve college and career advising programs. Recent analysis done by social impact nonprofit Kinetic West confirmed that there’s a real need to focus on advising in Washington state. Advising is not done consistently across our state, and many school districts lack the capacity to provide support beyond their counselors – who are already stretched too thin.

There are 373 students for every counselor in Washington’s K-12 schools, which makes it hard for schools to offer personalized support. Meanwhile, many teachers don’t feel prepared to provide college and career advising to their students. Students in rural communities lack access to nonprofits and community-based organizations that can provide additional support.

Access works

We know that access to counselors and advisors works – especially for students who face more significant barriers in their education journeys. Among students who would be the first in their family to go to college, 74% attended within three years of graduation if they had met with a counselor in high school compared to 49% of those who did not.

Through Horizons, we want to help regions explore ways to bring counselors and advising solutions directly to students, rather than relying on students to find an adult who can help. As new foundation-funded research confirms, students want this kind of support. More than 43% of high school students said that expanding access to experts to help them navigate the college experience, finance their education, and explore career pathways would be “extremely helpful.”

This kind of support can help students understand the steps they need to take to be prepared for local jobs – nearly 70% of all jobs in our state require some kind of post-high school education, and that percentage continues to increase.

Learning from local communities

In total, our Washington State team will provide $19 million in grant funding and technical assistance over the next three years to help the four Horizons partnerships implement or expand programs to help more students take the next step after high school.

We believe these four regions can uncover important insights about the programs, solutions, and partnership approaches that help students pursue their college and career goals. We intend to help bring those lessons learned to similar regions, in addition to state leaders, so that more students in Washington state can get the support they need to take their best next step after high school.


Angela Jones is the director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Washington State.  She leads the foundation’s efforts to create a sustainable and positive impact for students, families, and communities in Washington State. With more than 25 years of passionate engagement, service, and leadership in Washington’s public education systems, she applies her experience in leading systemic change and a strong belief in community sustainability and generational growth through access to education.


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About the Author

Angela Jones / Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation