The cost of higher education rises every year, and the privations of the pandemic are making it even more difficult for some families to send their children to college.
That’s one reason schools like Pikes Peak Community College, UCCS and Colorado College have taken steps to help more students defray their costs, offering both financial aid and special programs.
A new partnership with educational technology company Slingshot will enable Pikes Peak Community College to offer free required textbooks to all students this fall.
“We are systematically taking away every barrier to education,” PPCC President Lance Bolton said. “We have 10 times more financial aid than ever before, we have more advisers, tutors and success coaches to help students succeed, and now we have free textbooks, so students can actually be ready to hit the ground running when classes start.”
UCCS recently expanded its Chromebook program. Starting with the fall semester, all full-time students will be eligible to claim a Chromebook for the duration of their academic careers, said Jayme McGuire, assistant director of communications.
At Colorado College, the Colorado Pledge makes it possible for students whose family annual income is less than $60,000 to attend without paying tuition, fees, or room and board, and costs are reduced for students whose family income is below $200,000.
Still, the cost of attending college is high, and schools are looking to donors and benefactors to help them serve more students.
Pikes Peak Community College students will save an average of $1,000 on textbooks under the new free textbook program, according to a news release from the school.
PPCC typically provides more than $1 million a year in scholarships and financial aid, said Warren Epstein, executive director of marketing and communications. Last year, the school gave out a record $1.7 million.
“One of the things we’re doing with our COVID relief money is that every student, regardless of full- or part-time status, gets $500 before classes start,” Epstein said. “This is in recognition that a lot of the expenses students have start before they head to class. It’s not just books — it’s housing, it’s related expenses.”
The free textbook program is new this year, but PPCC started the Dakota Promise scholarship program last year. The program offers free tuition to every student from Harrison School District 2 with a solid C average. Students also get coaching, tutoring and help with nonacademic skills — like time management — that are crucial to their success.
“Our president’s vision is that we want this to go communitywide,” Epstein said. “Dr. Bolton’s really looking years down the line into how do we take away every single barrier to education that we can, because we know that education — even getting that certificate or that associate’s degree — can make a difference between poverty and the middle class. It can really lift somebody up in ways that nothing else can.”
Average tuition at PPCC is just over $4,800 a year, Epstein said, and the college has not raised tuition for the past three years.
At the same time, state-provided funding has declined.
“Our state funding level had been $24 million annually, but in the 2021 academic year, that dropped to $10.3 million,” Epstein said. Gov. Jared Polis stepped in and backfilled with $12.5 million in state stimulus money.
“For 2022, we’re back up to $27.5 million,” he said. “But even with that, we’ve had loss from tuition and increase in costs. We’ve had to keep some positions vacant to make it up. … When we do something extraordinary like the Dakota Promise, we can’t do it alone.”
Funding for the Dakota Promise is provided by the Dakota Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 by A. Bart Holaday that focuses philanthropic efforts on initiatives that foster social entrepreneurship and enhance self-sufficiency.
“In every aspect and in every college, the cost of doing business is going up,” Epstein said. “If you’re building anything, your cost of materials is skyrocketing. The cost of maintaining a quality workforce is a tremendous challenge.”
While the federal influx of money means that more financial aid is available now than ever before, it won’t last forever.
“Maintaining tuition and enrollment numbers is essential,” Epstein said. “It’s one reason why we’re investing more in marketing. You’re going to see, over the next month, more commercials about Pikes Peak Community College.”
Enrollment was up each of the three previous years before 2019, he said, but dropped when COVID hit. Enrollment during the last spring semester was down 11 percent year over year, and summer was down 13 percent.
“Right now we’re down for fall about 9 percent,” Epstein said.
The month of August will be key, he said, adding that he thinks the school will be able to get at least to last fall’s numbers by the time classes start.
The school and the state’s community college system are starting to think outside the quadrangles to assure they can meet students’ needs in the future.
“We’re looking at other avenues — one of them could be a community vote or mill levy, like we do for K-12,” Epstein said.
Tuition at the University of Colorado’s institutions has also remained flat for the past three years. State funding for higher education has declined, which has shifted the cost burden to families.
According to the CU website, the estimated annual cost of attending UCCS in 2021-22 for a full-time, resident undergraduate in the College of Arts and Sciences taking 30 credit hours will total $30,748 per year. That includes $9,118 for tuition, $1,642 in fees, $12,678 for room and board and $7,310 for transportation, books and personal expenses.
These figures include nonbillable and billable items, said Jevita Rogers, senior executive director of the UCCS Office of Financial Aid, Student Employment and Scholarships.
“We are still one of the least expensive public institutions in Colorado,” Rogers said.
“The university invests in what we call institutional financial aid,” she said. “That allows me and my office to be able to offer additional funding to students to help them cover their cost of tuition, housing, and so forth.”
The university also provides funding for hourly wages, “so we have a large population of our students — just over 2,000 students — who work on campus.”
Students who work while they study “are typically retained better, get better grades and graduate in a more timely fashion,” Rogers said. “So student employment is very important to us.”
Merit scholarships — based on students’ high school grades, test scores and other factors — include the chancellor’s award, which totals $2,500 per year.
“And then, like any school, we have endowment scholarships that students can apply for to further reduce tuition and costs,” Rogers said.
Federal COVID relief funding helped cover extraordinary expenses last year such as housing for students who had to leave the residence halls.
Students themselves have figured out ways to save money while on campus, Rogers said.
“Our students are smart cookies; they have different listservs where they will trade books, sell books, especially in some of the programs where you may not use that book again,” she said.
Students also have the option to rent books through the bookstore. Rogers tells families to budget about $800 a year for books.
Tuition will increase about 3 percent this year, but “students will not pay that out-of-pocket,” Rogers said. “We’re using some of the COVID relief money from the federal government.”
Rogers said affordability and financial aid are key parts of Chancellor Venkat Reddy’s short- and long-term strategic planning for the university.
“It’s also a commitment that our board of regents for the CU system has made for all of the campuses,” she said.
Starting with the class of 2020, Colorado College initiated the Colorado Pledge, a program funded by donations that is aimed at helping Colorado families.
Newly admitted students whose family income is less than $60,000 pay nothing toward direct costs of tuition, fees, housing and meals. For those with family incomes between $60,000 and $125,000, parents pay only room and board charges. Those with adjusted gross incomes below $200,000 are charged an amount equal to or less than the cost of attending the state’s flagship institutions.
Colorado College is among about 70 schools in the nation that meet Full Demonstrated Need.
That means the college will cover the difference between a family’s estimated contribution and the cost of attending Colorado College, which is about $80,000 a year, said Shannon Amundson, director of financial aid.
“So if the family’s estimated contribution is $10,000, then we’re going to give them a package worth $70,000,” Amundson said.
The family’s contribution is estimated using information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the College Board’s College Scholarship Service Profile and other documents such as tax returns.
“We look at the full financial strength of the family to determine that family contribution,” Rogers said.
“We will give the higher package if meeting need is a better package than the Colorado Pledge,” she said. “If there are reasons that a family’s need would be higher than the Colorado Pledge — maybe a family has three kids in college — we would still meet that need. We want to make sure that we’re making it as affordable as we can for families.”
The college uses funding from its endowment and budget to close the gap, she said.
“We’re working really hard to grow that endowment and to have our alumni and other supporters endow funds that will be here for generations to come,” she said. “That will give us the money we need to make sure we can continue to meet the need for our students going forward.”