Colo. Launches Push to Boost College Readiness, Completion

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Hoping to raise its college-graduation rates, Colorado will soon use a multipart strategy to lure more students to college and to keep them there.

Starting next month, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education will mail letters to parents of high schoolers who get low scores on college-entrance tests, informing them of what remedial studies their children need in order to plan for a successful transition to college.

At the same time, students, regardless of family-income level, will become eligible to receive vouchers from the state worth up to $2,400 each to attend public and some private colleges in Colorado. Students can sign up for the stipends as early as age 13.

Rick O’Donnell, the executive director of the commission, believes the state is on the right track.

Lack of money and lack of academic preparation are the two largest barriers keeping students from seeking postsecondary education, he said. By giving students the new stipends, he said, Colorado is making the dream of college more attainable for many families.

“It makes parents and students say, ‘Someone is giving me part of the money; now where can I get the rest of it?’ ” Mr. O’Donnell said.

College Vouchers

The push to raise college attendance in Colorado began with the voucher program, which became law last year. ("Colo. Approves Higher Education Vouchers," May 5, 2004.)

Under the program, as of fiscal 2006, colleges will no longer receive the bulk of their operating money directly from the state. Instead, the state will split the pot of higher education funding this way: $288 million for stipends to students at public universities; $1.9 million for stipends to students in private colleges; and $208 million to colleges for certain educational services.

Students who enroll in the College Opportunity Fund, as the voucher program is called, will receive annual stipends of $2,400, or $80 per credit hour, to attend public institutions. Students in three private colleges—Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Denver University, and Regis University in Denver—will receive $1,200 annual stipends, but will have to be eligible for the need-based federal Pell Grant program.

Already, according to Mr. O’Donnell’s office, 145,000 of the state’s 210,000 eligible students, or almost 70 percent, have signed up.

Although the plan puts colleges in greater competition for students—and the funds that go with them—the state’s public universities have welcomed the plan.

Applications to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs are up by 9 percent, said Chancellor Pamela Shockley-Zalabak. She added, though, that the increase could also be due to more aggressive recruitment.

Under the new plan, she said, “we’re losing money, but it comes back if we attract students.”

“My only real concern is being able to maintain the voucher amount and increase it over the next several years,” Ms. Shockley-Zalabak said.

In addition to the money, Mr. O’Donnell said, it is also extremely important to ensure students are academically prepared for college.

Right now, he said, 25 percent of students enter college in Colorado in need of remedial classes. Of those, 75 percent drop out of college.

Letters to Parents

Under legislation signed into law this year by Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, the parents of any 11th graders who receive scores of 19 or less out of 30 on the ACT college-entrance exam will get letters informing them what remedial courses would help their children prepare for college. The parents can then approach their school districts to develop plans for such help.

“If we know a full 18 or 16 months ahead that a student will need remediation, shouldn’t we let them know as soon as we know so they can be more proactive?” Mr. Donnell said, pointing out that high schoolers could get the courses free at school. While all districts do not offer such courses now, they will be required to do so this coming school year under the law.

Parents will also receive letters from the higher education commission when their children are in 8th grade that tell them of the courses their districts have available to satisfy the commission’s admission guidelines.

Jane Urschel, the vice president of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the group had opposed an earlier version of the bill that would have required the districts to inform parents if their children needed remedial classes. She said that districts are already short of funds and other resources.

Today, she says the move was positive overall. She added, “The school district will still step up and help with remediation, but the responsibility to seek that will be the parents’.”

Vol. 24, Issue 40, Page 17

Published in Print: June 15, 2005, as Colo. Launches Push to Boost College Readiness, Completion
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