Three reasons the Gates Foundation is launching Horizons in Washington state


July 8th, 2023

“The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.”

– Maya Angelou, ‘On the Pulse of Morning’

Young people in Washington state are always exploring new horizons – music, sports, friends, different classes, and future careers. For many, however, some of these horizons can feel like a dream that’s unreachable.

Like Maya Angelou said in her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” it’s our job to ensure the horizon leans forward for students so they can take the next step toward the future they want. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is launching a new grant program in Washington state, Horizons, to help make that possible.

Over the next three school years, Horizons will provide grants to three regional partnerships in Washington state as they work to expand programs that help students enroll in postsecondary programs that can put them on a path to their college and career goals.

Here are three reasons our Washington State team is launching Horizons.

Our students want this

Nearly 90% of Washington’s high schoolers say they want to continue their education after high school. But today, only 50% of Washington’s high school graduates complete postsecondary programs (The national average is 63%).

We need to help students connect their dreams with the programs that can bridge this gap from high school to careers.

“At first, I didn’t want to go to college,” Tacoma high school student Angelo admitted to a group of about 200 education leaders at a convening our team hosted earlier this summer. “Going to Summit Olympus changed my life. It opened my eyes. College can open a lot more doors.”

When asked how our schools can make the transition to a postsecondary program easier, Angelo said it was as simple as matching programs to students’ needs.

“You need to get to know the person and who they are – and then support them with the tools they need. You don’t need to give someone a screwdriver if they need a hammer.”

We’re launching Horizons because students want to take the next step after high school – and they want programs that align with their goals and interests.

Regions have unique needs

In 2022, our Washington State team had conversations with more than 200 community members in all corners of the state. What they shared helped shape our focus on supporting the transition from high school to postsecondary programs.

Community members emphasized that we must invest locally – in the schools, colleges, and organizations that know their communities best. Our state has regions with different student populations and job opportunities. What’s right for students in Tacoma might not be right for students in a rural town like Bridgeport.

We’re launching Horizons because we want to give regions the flexibility to explore solutions that are informed by local needs. We hope anything they learn can help similar regions across the state.

High-quality advising can help

Our foundation colleagues that focus on national education issues have been examining the kind of programs that help students take the next step after high school. They’ve found that high-quality college and career advising supports can make a big impact.

Here’s just one example: Rainier Scholars is a local scholarship program that offers a pathway to college graduation for students of color, starting in 5th grade. The program includes personalized college and career counseling over 12 years of a student’s education journey, and the outcomes are promising. Around 98% of scholars are accepted to four-year colleges.

Unfortunately, not all students today in Washington state have access to this kind of advising support. There are 418 students for every counselor in Washington’s K-12 schools, which makes it hard for schools to offer personalized support. Our partners at Kinetic West also conducted a landscape of community-based college and career advising providers across the state. Their analysis identified some gaps. Rural communities, for example, have limited access to college and career advising providers.

We’re launching Horizons to help regions explore college and career advising solutions that can ensure all students see a clear path to success after graduation.

Everyone should have access to the opportunities they need to design the future they want. That core belief drives the work in our home state of Washington, and it is why we’re launching Horizons. Our goal is to help local communities lean forward to ensure the path ahead for students is clear and exciting.

To learn more about Horizons, visit local.gatesfoundation.org/horizons.



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