Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Northwest Education Loan Association Center for Student Success—Grand Opening
October 7, 2003

Good afternoon. Thank you, Vijou, for that introduction. What better way to launch this Center than by hearing from one of our promising young students?

I am honored to be here. Today is an important day for education in our state.

I wish to begin by thanking the Northwest Education Loan Association for its generous contribution of $50,000 to the Governor’s Scholarship Fund. This fund creates higher education opportunities for students leaving foster care and going out into the world.

I also want to thank NELA for all of its work over the years—helping nearly 700,000 Washington students with access to more than $4.5 billion in student loan funds—and the doors of opportunity that those funds open.

Such opportunities bring us here today. The Center for Student Success we officially open this afternoon is a truly unique community resource. This Center offers free counseling and expertise to students and their families so they can successfully plan and pay for college. It will help students enroll and stay in college by helping them understand their options. The Center both promotes access to higher education and teaches financial literacy.

My parents were not affluent. But thanks to financial aid, scholarships and part-time work, I was able to attend college. I was able to choose my destiny and realize my dreams. All because I was given the opportunity to get a good education.

And this Center will help thousands of Washington students that will find similar opportunities. This Center will empower people to choose their destiny—and realize their dreams.

We are here because we recognize the power of education. And we share another, equally important conviction. We recognize that diversity is our greatest strength.

In our diversity lies our humanity. A society that denies its differences is doomed to division. Such a society subsists on shadows and is haunted by senseless hatreds.

But an inclusive society that embraces its rich variety of people, cultures, and religions reaches for the highest, best potential of enlightened society.

Reaching such heights demands opportunities for all. And it is clear that more must be done to make sure minorities have equal access to higher education—and equal resources to stay in college.

The percentage of Hispanics and African Americans in this country holding bachelor’s degrees is lower than the general population. 33 percent of whites earn bachelor’s degrees nationally. But only 18 percent of African Americans and 11 percent of Hispanics do.

We see this disparity reflected in our state’s college graduation rates. Overall, 60 percent of freshmen entering a public four-year institution in Washington in 1994 graduated from the same institution within 6 years. But the graduation rate of African Americans lagged behind at 45 percent. The graduation rate of Hispanics lagged behind at 53 percent. And the Native American graduation rate was also lower at 49 percent.

One of the goals of this Center is to help close this unacceptable gap. The NELA is committed to higher education access for all, with outreach programs aimed at African-American, Hispanic and Native American students. This Center will also reach out to lower income families, and to students who could be the first in their family to go to college. We must help under-served groups set college and university goals—and give them the tools and skills to achieve them.

The Center for Student Success reaffirms our faith in the virtue of diversity, our belief in the power of education, and our commitment to opportunity for all.

As we dedicate the Center for Student Success today, let us also dedicate ourselves to expanding such public/private partnerships. This Center is proof positive that we can work together to start opening more doors. Such partnerships are making an important difference. A difference in access to higher education for many Washington students. And a difference in educational attainment.

I know that the NELA hopes to open more centers like this one. And I ask the legislators, business leaders, representatives of our schools and others here today to join in this effort. Let’s continue to work together for a better tomorrow for deserving Washington students.

Thank you.

And now, I will cut the ribbon officially opening this center—and opening a world of opportunity for those it will serve.

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