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Steve Ballmer at the UW commencement in June 2014
Steve Ballmer at the UW commencement in June 2014

Getting into social work can come with many challenges, not the least of which is the financial baggage of school, coupled with oftentimes low-paying jobs.

But a recent $20 million donation from from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie will let more social workers get the education they need without the monetary burden.

The donation to the University of Washington’s School of Social Work will be used for graduate scholarships and various initiatives throughout the school. Today’s gift brings the Ballmers’ total donations to $32 million for the UW School of Social Work.

“The School of Social Work is a valuable resource to our community that is educating a new generation of social workers — unsung heroes in our community,” Connie Ballmer said in a statement. “The work they do is absolutely critical, but the compensation they receive is often relatively low. Through this support, we can reduce the amount of debt that social work graduates face and make the field financially viable for them.”

Students typically graduate social work programs with more than $37,000 in debt and Washington social workers earn a median annual salary of $41,000. With 75 percent of UW social work graduate students staying in state after graduation, the funds will go toward improving social work output for the state.

The Ballmers’ previous support enabled the School of Social Work to establish the first endowed deanship at a U.S. public university. Edwina “Eddie” Uehara is the Ballmer Endowed Dean in Social Work and is using technology to help improve child welfare and reduce suicides.

“This is going to change the lives of our students in profound ways,” Uehara said. “We will be able to help students who need it and attract the brightest and best to the University of Washington. We are profoundly grateful to the Ballmers for their support.”

Today’s donation more than doubles the school’s current philanthropic support, which provided $1.7 million in financial assistance to students last year.

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