For all the young Coloradanâ€™s with the ability and drive to pursue a degree but not enough money to attend college, CSU President Tony Frank unveiled a plan Thursday that would give them a shot.
Coined Commitment to Colorado, the new financial aid initiative will ensure that students whose families make less than $57,000 annually, the statesâ€™ median family income, would pay no more than half of tuition and fees.
CSU also announced that for low-income students who qualify for the Federal Pell-Grant â€“â€“ awarded based on income tax, household size, savings, investments, state residency and employment status â€“â€“ tuition and fees would be completely covered.
Fiscal year 2012 budget projections estimate 3,016 students will be Pell-Grant eligible and pay nothing, instead of the $6,986 in general tuition and fees.
The funds to carry out Frankâ€™s promise will come partly from tuition hikes for in-state students who can pay their way, as well as tuition payments from out-of-state students.
CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander said the university will pull from its capital fundraising campaign and rework the use of current financial aid dollars from the state and federal government.
The initiative will not touch merit awards, which are strictly academic.
Oscar Felix, executive director of CSUâ€™s Access Center, which caters to those who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education, said he sees about 5,000 people annually, from 6th graders to 45-year-olds, who would benefit from Commitment to Colorado.
Felix, who came from a low-income household, said he was awarded the Pell-Grant as a first-generation college student and â€œbenefited from someone elseâ€™s contribution.â€ But, now that heâ€™s received a Ph.D, tuition bills for his children will be his responsibility.
â€œThose folks who can afford to pay it for our kids are, in a way, contributing to society,â€ he said. â€œThe tide raises all boats.â€
The initiative will take effect in fall 2011, which marks the beginning of fiscal year 2012. More than 3,000 CSU students will be eligible to apply for some form of aid from the new program.
Commitment to Colorado comes on the heels of Senate Bill 3, which allows universities to submit proposals to raise tuition more than current 9 percent tuition cap.
If the Colorado Commission on Higher Education approves a universityâ€™s proposal, a school such as CSU could raise tuition and ultimately gain greater operational autonomy, a move that has been described by some as a step toward privatization.
But Tom Massey, ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, said he is â€œthrilledâ€ with CSUâ€™s move â€“â€“ even if itâ€™s raising tuition â€“â€“ because it will increase production.
When asked if he thought the increase in tuition for students able to pay would drive down enrollment, he said it was unlikely because most Colorado schools, excluding CU-Boulderâ€™s medical school, come with a reasonable asking price.
â€œThe end justifies the means,â€ Massey, R-60, said. His district represents CSU-Pueblo, which will give similar benefits to any in-state student whose family income is less than $50,000 annually.
A list compiled by CSU public relations officials shows a number of universities around the country have made similar promises to students who come from a less-affluent backgrounds.
CU-Boulderâ€™s version, â€œCU Promise,â€ offers free tuition, fees and books to in-state students with family incomes of or below $22,050, the federally-established poverty level. Bohlander said CSUâ€™s version is the first to offer assistance to middle-income families.
Gov. Bill Ritter called Colorado Commitment a â€œgame changerâ€ for the stateâ€™s higher education.
Ritter, a CSU alumnus who came from a low-income family with 12 brothers and sisters, said his mother didnâ€™t have a dime to send him to college. But CSU made his education possible.
â€œI think today that the â€˜Aâ€™ takes on two other meanings: affordability and accessibility,â€ Ritter said, describing the historic Aggie â€˜A,â€™ painted on the foothills west of the CSU-Fort Collins campus, as a symbol of CSUâ€™s agricultural roots.
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