Creating limitless opportunities for Washington state’s students


Our Washington State team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believes that everyone should have access to the opportunities they need to design the future they want. When I think about how we realize this vision for young people across Washington state, I always try to keep three students in the forefront of my mind.

That first student is 16-year-old Angela. In high school, I had to battle with my teacher to use Toni Morrison for my AP term paper because she didn’t know the award-winning author or her work. I stood my ground because my parents taught me how to advocate for myself. You can imagine my surprise when my teacher returned my paper with a 100% score and said she owed me an apology. She even asked if she could keep the paper! I do this work because I want every student to have champions in their corner like my parents were for me and to know how to stand firmly in pursuit of their goals.

The second student I channel is a student I will call EF. I had to teach EF to read when he was in the 9th grade. Everyone said I shouldn’t spend that much time on him. I knew they were wrong. Unfortunately, despite some great progress we made together, he ended up leaving the school when I left. I remember to this day that we failed him – as a system, as a school – and I am committed to doing more to ensure that adults and the systems we oversee aren’t the ones creating barriers for our students.

The third student is one that we’re never going to meet. This is the student who is going to appreciate that we acted as good ancestors; that we pushed on these systems and created opportunities for them – opportunities to take charge of their future.

These three students are who I have in mind as we take the first big step in our Washington State work, which invests in locally led solutions that help students continue their education beyond high school and achieve their aspirations.

What’s that first step?

This week, our partners at Education First launched an open application for regional partnerships to join Limitless, a collaborative statewide Learning Network that will focus on postsecondary enrollment. The Gates Foundation is providing funding to help Education First launch and manage this network.

The Limitless Learning Network will be made up of local K-12 and higher education partners who will share information, experiences, and expertise in removing barriers and supporting students in finding and following their path forward after high school.

Together with Education First, these local partnerships will explore solutions that help their students see a clear path to success in the careers they choose – solutions like helping students complete their FAFSA applications or access effective college and career advising programs. Education First will have a particular focus on programs that work for young people who face the highest barriers, including Black, Latino, and Indigenous students, and students from low-income and rural communities.

Why are we focused on postsecondary enrollment? Because nearly 90% of Washington’s high schoolers say they want to continue their education after high school, but only 50% of high school graduates today enroll in postsecondary programs, including two- and four-year degrees and apprenticeships.

Each Limitless regional partnership will receive $25,000 in grant funding each year, as well as technical assistance to help facilitate collaboration and implement strategic, evidence-based solutions.

We are committing $4 million over the next four years to support this statewide learning network, but this won’t be the only program we launch this year.

Later this fall, we will announce a Request for Proposals as part of a second grant program that will include up to $16 million in funding over three years, along with technical assistance. This program, Horizons, will provide focused investments in three regional partnerships that are ready to expand or scale to help more students prepare for college and careers. We will share more details ahead of that funding opportunity.

I believe that change starts at home, in the communities where our students and their families live, learn, and play. Having worked in Wapato, Pullman, Spokane, and along the I-5 Corridor in Western Washington – and visited virtually every corner of our state – I also know that while statewide programs and policies are important, each local community needs the flexibility to identify the best solutions for the students and families in their region.

I’m so grateful to be able to support these collaborative efforts to ensure that every student like 16-year-old Angela, my student EF, and all those students that I’ll never meet, can have the access and opportunities they need to design the future they want.

  • To learn more about the Limitless Learning Network, including how to apply before the August 18 deadline, head to the Education First website.
  • To stay up to date on the Gates Foundation’s work in Washington state, including our funding opportunity that will be announced this fall, please sign up for our monthly newsletter.

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