A Fund to Support College Scholarships in One State Gets a Big Helping Hand

Seattle businessman, investor, and philanthropist Gary Rubens did not have the opportunity to go to college because his family could not afford it. He doesn’t want the price of college to be a barrier for today’s young people.

That’s why Rubens’ philanthropy, the Rubens Family Foundation, just pledged $20 million over five years toward college scholarships for students in Washington state. The Rubens gift will support the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS), a public-private alliance that funds scholarships for low- and moderate-income students pursuing four-year degrees in the STEM and health care fields.

Because he was unable to attend college, Rubens said he has a passion for helping those in need of an education. He hopes the gift to WSOS will help open doors to future entrepreneurs to start businesses in Washington state. Rubens knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship. He started a manufacturing firm in the hospitality industry and later began an e-commerce site for home furnishings and fixtures that was acquired in 2011 by home improvement retail giant Lowe’s.

Rubens’ gift to WSOS is the largest single gift to the scholarship fund, which will have $40 million to provide scholarships for 6,800 students to a college or university in Washington State. The state matched Rubens’ gift with $20 million of its own. WSOS was launched in 2011 with $50 million from Boeing and Microsoft, two companies with strong roots in Washington State, not to mention an interest in a STEM-educated workforce.

Since its beginning, WSOS has awarded more than 4,000 scholarships to eligible students in Washington State, with the majority going to first-generation college students. WSOS also reported that more than half of scholarship recipients were students of color, and 60 percent were female.

Area companies and business leaders have a vested interest in an educated workforce in the communities in which they operate. Here’s hoping that gifts such as that from Gary Rubens will set an example for other business leaders.