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Originally published Sunday, July 4, 2010 at 4:01 PM

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College Success Foundation is, well, quite successful

The Seattle Times editorial board lauds the achievements of the College Success Foundation.

THE College Success Foundation, based in Issaquah, is an example of philanthropy with measurable results. Started 10 years ago with grants from Costco Wholesale and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the College Success Foundation has helped through college more than 1,000 Washington students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Nationally, of students from low-income families who enroll in college, only 28 percent graduate with a four-year degree. The College Success Foundation's success rate with similar students is 56 percent.

The foundation starts by working in public schools, mentoring students, promoting college-prep classes and showing how students can qualify for aid for college tuition, books, room and board.

"Not every child needs this," says the foundation's president, Deborah Wilds, who mentors at Seattle's Cleveland High School. "But some of them do."

In the past decade, the foundation has proved its approach at 16 high schools in low-income areas around the state, boosting the number of kids going on to college from those schools. Now the foundation is expanding.

Its newest move is a focus on an entire district, approaching individual donors with the promise of using their money for kids in their hometown public schools. Employers are offered another thing: they can specify a field of study — engineering, nursing, accounting, etc. — for the scholarships they fund.

The first such district is Tacoma. Using this approach, the foundation has raised $2.8 million for its Tacoma project, and has applied for a $30 million federal innovation grant.

As Gates money becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of the total — Gates and Costco together are about two-thirds, now — the foundation's funding in Tacoma will become the new model: local donors, local focus, local benefit.

Done in many places, this can result in big gains for students, for the employers who hire them and for the whole community.

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