The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $122 million (EUR91.38 million) initiative Thursday to send hundreds of the District of Columbia's poorest students to college - one of the foundation's largest grants for education.
The gift from the Seattle-based foundation of the Microsoft Corp. founder will provide mentoring and college scholarships for more than 2,200 students over the next 10 years. Each will receive up to $10,000 (EUR7,490) a year for college tuition for up to five years.
The money for the D.C. Achievers Scholarships is meant to boost high school and college graduation rates among low-income students.
Only one in three students in the targeted neighborhoods completes high school within five years, and just one in 20 high school graduates earns a college degree within five years, statistics show.
"These scholarships will make a tremendous difference in nurturing the potential of so many students who never believed that they would complete college," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said Thursday.
The first scholarships will be awarded this spring to 175 high school juniors. Students will be selected based on measures of "resilience" and "demonstrated commitment to education," in addition to high school grades and standardized test scores.
The Gates Foundation wanted to help start the project in Washington, D.C., because of its need for school reform and a strong commitment by city leaders to improve the schools, said Marie Groark, a foundation spokeswoman, reports AP.
The foundation has donated $1.5 billion (EUR1.12 billion) nationwide to improve education and more than $13 million (EUR9.74 million) in D.C. A similar program has awarded 3,800 college scholarships to low-income students in Washington state since 2000.