‘It takes pressure off’: Innovia Foundation plans to gift scholarship to every Inland Northwest senior

SPOKANE, Wash. – Scholarship money for every single Inland Northwest high school senior to go to college, that is what the Innovia Foundation says it plans to do through its new Launch NW program.

“It is a lofty goal, but aren’t our children worth it? When we take a look at the hope that our communities have for the future, at the base of that hope, has to be our young people and the ability for our young people to pursue their passion,” said Ben Small, Launch NW’s executive director.

Many parents and students have felt the burden of paying for college. Scott Kerwien, the executive director of student success with Spokane Public Schools, says affordability is one of the main things students talked about when he was a high school counselor.

According to Launch NW, 4 in 10 high school graduates are not going to college or workforce training programs in the Inland Northwest.

In Spokane Public Schools, according to data from the Education Research and Data Center updated in September of 2021, 34-percent of students went on to a four-year school after graduation; twenty-three percent went to a two-year college. The data only represents students who go on to two and four-year college, not the military, trade schools and apprenticeships.

“Students are thinking about those options. They’re weighing out backup to backup options,” Kerwien said. “The unique part about this launch, it coincided with COVID. Students still aspire to go to college but weren’t sure about the format, ‘Do I want to pay that much money to go to all online classes and maybe not even have an on-campus experience?'”

The scholarships Launch NW will be giving out are categorized as a “last-dollar scholarship.” That means that the foundation will fill the gap for a graduating student after receiving other scholarships, grants and financial aid.

Students can also use this money to go to any college they want in either Washington or across the country. Small says they’ll be working with the college to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

“We don’t want to restrict anybody, so this will be available to any college willing to sign an MOU with us to share the data, to make sure students are making satisfactory progress,” Small said.

The Innovia Foundation received a total of $8.5 million from Spokane County, the City of Spokane Valley and money allocated by Washington Senator Patty Murray to implement Launch NW.

Small added that this is also an endowed scholarship. He says after they announce the scholarship, they won’t have to raise money for that specific scholarship anymore. However, they will be bringing together federal and local funds to keep this all going, especially the wraparound services they’ll be offering for these students as well. This includes helping and supporting students when they are going away from home for the first time.

Small says this new program will help families no longer feel that financial pinch and give students an extra boost if they want to pursue post-secondary education. The money will also be given to the student every year they’re in school, and all students in the Inland Northwest will be eligible as long as they attend an Eastern Washington or North Idaho high school.

“It’s a powerful motivator. It changes the conversation at the dinner table and not – to not, ‘Can we afford it?’ to ‘What are you going to do? what’s the next step for you as a child?'” Small said. “It takes pressure off our families as they’re trying to do what’s best for their children.”

“I think students need to see one shred of hope so that they have a goal and a vision since they’ve been little, they want to achieve that goal,” Kerwien added. “This just offers that shred of hope, especially coming out of COVID that it can be possible.”

Launch NW says it plans to announce scholarships for seniors starting spring of 2024.