lundeen

In the era of party polarization and partisan bickering, at least we can agree on one thing: The cost of college is pricing a lot of students out of a post-secondary education.

Over the last decade, families have seen the cost of attaining higher education skyrocket. While the costs for education providers have climbed, the state has struggled to provide funding and more of the burden has fallen on families through tuition. The state used to cover about two-thirds of tuition and fees while students and families were responsible for the rest. Today, that ratio has reversed.

With wage growth just now starting to tick up and soaring college costs, families have been struggling to keep up. Fortunately, communities like Colorado Springs are rallying around students through the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, housed in the Colorado Department of Higher Education. COSI held its annual grantee symposium at UCCS last month.

Launched in 2013, COSI harnesses community partnerships and grassroots fundraising to chip away at two of the biggest barriers facing Colorado families: affordability and accessibility. As a COSI proponent since its inception, I can tell you the silly-sounding initiative has a serious impact.

Through its signature program, COSI matches community-raised scholarship funds dollar for dollar, doubling opportunities for students. In El Paso County alone, more than $1 million will go toward 350 new scholarships for students attending Pikes Peak Community College and UCCS this upcoming academic year.

But we also know that getting students to the college door is just the beginning: To truly succeed, we need them to graduate. That’s where COSI’s Community Partner Programs come in. They prepare students for postsecondary education and training, and support them through credential completion. Earlier this year, COSI awarded a total of $3.1 million to 28 community partners that will serve an estimated 8,000 students annually.

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Counties like El Paso bet on COSI because it works. Studies show the vast majority of COSI students enrolled in CPP programs (90 percent) persist in their education path, a 12 percent increase compared to peers. Students receiving COSI scholarships perform even better: 94 percent continue, outpacing non-COSI counterparts by 21 percent.

Fellow state legislators are taking note. This past session, the Colorado Legislature increased COSI’s appropriation by $2 million and granted $1.5 million in additional one-time funding, bringing its total budget to $8.5 million for the current fiscal year.

This is great news, but to ensure all students can access COSI resources, we’ll need more sustainable backing. That’s why I’m calling on my colleagues to join me to prioritize existing general fund dollars and boost COSI funding by $2 million this upcoming legislative session.

I support COSI because it allows communities to do what they do best: design programs that meet the needs of their students. It doesn’t give people a handout, but a hand up as they provide for themselves and their families — and a little goes a long way.

As one COSI scholarship recipient writes, “I am a working adult with three boys, and when I told them about the scholarship, their faces lit up with excitement. They were very excited to know that a complete stranger gave us money in order to continue with school.”

When we invest in COSI, we invest in people who have proven they will do the work to improve their situation.

Paul Lundeen represents the 19th District in Colorado’s House of Representatives. He can be reached at paul.lundeen.house@state.co.us.