Aug 25, 2015

New Colorado higher-education rules allow state to match scholarships

Colorado students who have had difficulty affording college in the past may get some relief after the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative board adopted new rules relating to the state's ability to match scholarship funds. Under the new rules, adopted Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Higher Education will be able to use the $7 million in the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative fund to match postsecondary scholarships provided by colleges, local municipalities and workforce development programs to students whose family income is about $78,000 or less a year. Eligible students — defined under the new rules as those whose family income is 250 percent or less of PELL eligibility — include both middle and lower class families. "If you're not eligible for PELL, that doesn't necessarily mean you can cover the entire cost of college," said CDHE spokesperson Jessica Bralish. "This touches those people who may not get full PELL grants but still need help affording college." The Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, created in 2014, seeks to establish a statewide network of student support and scholarship programs by matching scholarships provided by local programs 1:1, with the local programs then distributing them to students awarded the scholarship. Shelley Banker, deputy director of the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, said the new rules allow them to start distributing funds to programs, and are an opportunity to connect with businesses involved in workforce development programs. "This is a good opportunity to connect with the workforce and ensure that we're preparing Colorado students for the jobs of the future," Banker said. Banker said the Initiative will publish a proposal in the next few weeks and begin accepting applications in mid-October, with scholarships and agreements in place by the spring 2016 semester. The main requirements for eligibility on the scholarship matching are that the student meets the income requirement, is attending a public institution and that "students have support in place to make sure scholarship goes as far as they can," Banker said. "It's programs that work directly with students on affordability, career pathways and making sure they're completing their coursework on time and on-schedule to complete their degree within a set amount of time," she said. Colorado college students graduate with an average of $24,000 debt, according to the CDHE, which Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who also heads the state's education bureaus, said "bogs down" too many students and makes college unaffordable for many. "This program combines limited state dollars with local resources to help more students achieve a post-secondary credential," Garcia said. "[The] board action provides new resources for communities interested in creating scholarship opportunities for their students." It also is meant to address the state's attainment gap, defined as the gap between Coloradans who traditionally go to college and Coloradans who are historically less likely to go to college, often in lower income communities. The Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative in fall 2014 granted $3.4 million to organizations across the state that work with students to improve access, persistence, and completion.

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