Amazon is donating $3 million to community colleges in the Puget Sound region to support affordable, four-year degree programs in computer science (CS) for local residents. Bellevue College and Seattle Colleges will each receive $1.5 million to expand their CS higher education opportunities, with a focus on local students from backgrounds and communities that are historically underrepresented in technology fields. The degree programs will help create a pathway for these students to build a career in the industry.
The Washington State Legislature passed a bill last year, with advocacy from Amazon, to enable local community and technical colleges to offer four-year CS degrees. With Amazon’s new donations, Bellevue College and Seattle Colleges will be able to launch or expand these programs by hiring more teachers and increasing capacity to graduate even more students from the region.
“Engineering and computer science are two of the most in-demand career fields in the U.S., and it is essential that there are enough skilled workers who represent our diverse communities to fill these roles,” said Victor Reinoso, global director of Amazon’s philanthropic education initiatives. “We are committed to creating a diverse pipeline of tech students in the Puget Sound region and hiring this homegrown talent to help keep this region strong in the years to come.”
Bellevue College will use the funding to help expand its existing computer science program to serve 60% more students. The grant will also support students with financial or technical assistance, particularly those from underrepresented populations.
Seattle Colleges will use Amazon’s $1.5 million grant to help hire faculty, double the program’s capacity to serve local students interested in computer science, and recruit local high school students. This investment is in addition to Amazon’s $1 million donation in 2021 to help launch the bachelor’s degree program in computer science at North Seattle College, one of Seattle Colleges’ three campuses.
“Since we first launched the bachelor’s in computer science degree in 2017, it’s proved to be a tremendously successful pathway for our diverse communities to gain the skills and experience for this high-wage, high-demand field,” said Gary Locke, Bellevue College’s interim president. “Expanding our computer science program, including more financial support for enrollees and outreach to K-12 students, means great opportunities for even more students. We’re so grateful to Amazon for making this substantial contribution to their success.”
Bellevue College is the largest open-access institution of higher learning in the state and enrolls more than 27,000 students each year. Seattle Colleges includes five specialty training centers in addition to its three campuses that all serve Seattle and the surrounding communities.
“Seattle Colleges has played an important role in training and developing our region’s workforce for decades,” added Dr. Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap, interim chancellor of Seattle Colleges. “As an institution that serves this technology-driven community, we understand the value of computer science and STEM education. It’s only fitting that a leading technology company like Amazon would invest in its own backyard. We are grateful for Amazon’s commitment to our students and faculty, and we are proud to be their partner.”
According to the nonprofit Code.org, which works to ensure that all students have access to CS education, more than 21,000 computing jobs are open across Washington state, with an average salary of $112,000. In 2021, the number of job openings that required STEM credentials was about three times higher than the number of prepared graduates in the state.
Even though computer science is a rapidly growing field, opportunities for learning foundational CS skills are inequitable. For example, of the 1,883 computer science degrees awarded in Washington state during the 2018-19 academic year, only 3.8% were awarded to Black students, 5.6% to Latino students, and less than 1% to Native American students, according to statistics cited in the state legislation passed last year.
“We must continue to expand access to computer science degrees for all Washingtonians and the career opportunities that follow,” said Rep. Vandana Slatter, chair of the state Legislature’s House College and Workforce Development Committee. “I thank Amazon for this donation to help build and grow computer science programs at Bellevue College and Seattle Colleges, which will serve more low-income and underrepresented students.”
Amazon is also donating $5 million to the University of Washington to help construct a new Interdisciplinary Engineering Building on its Seattle campus. The new facility will help the college keep up with the increasing demand for engineering degrees and provide support services for engineering students from historically underrepresented communities. Since 2009, the university has nearly doubled the number of engineering degrees granted to undergraduate and graduate students.
These donations build on Amazon’s efforts to create pathways to success for high school students, college scholars, and interested adults. Through Amazon Future Engineer, the company’s global philanthropic computer science education program, Amazon aims to bridge the divide between interested students and available CS courses and opportunities. In Washington state, Amazon Future Engineer supports almost 300 schools by funding high-quality CS curricula, robotics clubs, and educator professional learning, and offering career talks.
Additionally, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has partnered with the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to enable more than 2,000 high school students across Washington state to earn certain computer-tech certifications before they graduate, free of charge. In 2021, Amazon opened the AWS Skills Center in Seattle, a free training center where people can learn about cloud computing by engaging with interactive exhibits, take free foundational cloud classroom training, and participate in local job events.
Learn more about Amazon’s community efforts.