About Us

Since 2008, the American workforce has changed dramatically.  For the first time, college graduates make up a larger share of the U.S. workforce than workers with a high school diploma or less. Of the jobs created in the post-recession recovery, over 99% of job growth went to workers with more than a high school diploma. For those with only a high school diploma or less, this meant a net loss of 5.5 million jobs since the recession began.

In Washington state, too many students may be left behind from the modern economy if college completion rates do not improve.  Over the next five years, Washington will have over 700,000 jobs with a majority that will require a degree, certificate, or credential.  Jobs are available but there are too few qualified candidates to fill them.  To address this problem, College Spark Washington is funding programs across Washington state that help low-income students become college-ready and earn their degrees.

At College Spark, our goal is to help our partners increase the percentage of low-income students who graduate from high school ready to go to college and succeed there.  Our grantees formulate policy, design programs, and do the vitally important work directly with students.  As funders, we invest in proven and promising solutions, and help our partners improve their performance and share best practices from Washington state and the nation.  If we build our partners capacity to effectively use information, develop and implement programs, and share their knowledge, their success will influence other organizations and institutions to implement successful college readiness and retention programs that can be sustained permanently.

We make grants that help Washington’s low-income students improve their academic achievement, prepare for college, graduate, and achieve their education goals. Grantees include public schools, community-based organizations, public and non-profit colleges and universities, and other organizations focused on college readiness and success.

College Spark began supporting access to higher education in 1978 by managing student loan programs. In 2004, College Spark reorganized as an education grantmaker and since then we have committed more than $50 million to college readiness and degree completion programs throughout Washington state.

College Spark Timeline

  • 1978Founded as a student loan guarantor
  • 2004Converted to a grantmaking foundation
  • 2005First Community Grants made
  • 2006Launched Achieving the Dream in Washington
  • 2008Supported development of TheWashBoard.org scholarship website
  • 2009Launched College Readiness Initiative
  • 2012Focused Community Grants on key indicators for college readiness and success
  • 2013Launched Advocacy Grants Program
  • 2014Launched College-Ready Math Initiative
  • 2016Launched Guided Pathways and Ready to Rise Initiatives

Improving college readiness and success among low-income students is a complex problem that requires complex and multi-faceted solutions. College Spark currently supports the following programs and initiatives:

  • A Community Grants Program which awards more than $1 million each year, in grants of up to $150,000.  Each fall, we accept requests-for-proposals for Community Grants and then conduct a rigorous process of site visits and application reviews to select grantees. College Spark has awarded more than 100 Community Grants totaling more than $18 million.  Information about our Community Grants guidelines, application deadlines, and past recipients is available on our Community Grants Program page.
  • Ready to Rise is a new initiative investing nearly $3.4 million over five years to help low-income students stay on track and graduate from college. The cohort-based program, which emphasizes peer support, will serve 1,000 students from three Washington communities as they attend colleges throughout the state.
  • Our Guided Pathways Initiative invests more than $7 million over eight years to make system-level changes that will provide students with more clarity on how to navigate the path to a desired degree. Five community colleges have been selected to implement the program: Everett, Peninsula, Pierce, South Puget Sound, and South Seattle Community Colleges. We anticipate a second cohort of five additional colleges as this effort expands in the state.
  • The College-Ready Math Initiative invests $12 million over seven years to help low-income students graduate from high school with strong math skills and avoid remediation in college.  The initiative includes a variety of evidence-based strategies and programs designed to help students improve their scores on the 11th grade Smarter Balanced Assessment, which measures achievement on Common Core State Standards and which can ensure automatic placement into college-level classes.

College Spark also supports theWashBoard.org, a free, web-based scholarship clearinghouse for Washington residents and students attending Washington colleges. More than 250,000 scholarship seekers have registered on theWashBoard.org. Last year, more than $40 million in available scholarship awards were available.

In 2012, College Spark adopted an Advocacy Grants Program to fund advocacy projects that accelerate the adoption and implementation of policies and practices that advance student success beyond direct service grants. The program focuses on successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

For information about our completed College Readiness Initiative and Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count Initiative, please see our What We Learn page.

“For too long, too many of our young people have been shut out of the transformational opportunities that a college education provides.  College Spark’s unwavering support for programs that promote college readiness, college attendance, and college success among students of color and from disadvantaged backgrounds is changing many lives for the better.”
Ed Taylor, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the University of Washington and College Spark Trustee