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CU chancellor: Colorado needs more funding for college diversity

Every winter under the gold dome of the Colorado Capitol, the state legislature comes together to literally write Colorado’s history. 

In 2014, with little fanfare, they established a scholarship to help low- and middle-income students — disproportionately students of color, first-generation and underrepresented.

Since then, tens of thousands of Coloradans who may not otherwise have had the means have been able to access a college education.

Philip DiStefano, chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Using public dollars to match private fundraising, the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) helps people like Gwendalynn Roebke of Colorado Springs, a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder. She told state lawmakers recently, “COSI made it possible for me to explore my interests in astrophysics, neuroscience and philosophy.” 

The beauty in COSI is that colleges and universities must first invest, and then the state matches that money dollar-for-dollar. This year, Colorado’s state legislature is working to renew its 2014 commitment by increasing funding to help bridge countless education divides.

By re-authorizing COSI, they will help meet the governor’s goals to narrow the attainment gap and invest in Colorado’s economic drivers: our people. The best part? It’s achieved with a modest additional investment of about $5 million, or 0.016 percent  of the state budget.

This public match is vital in helping CU Boulder reach more talented Colorado students who deserve the opportunity to follow their passions. Equally vital is our partnership with the community to raise the initial funds that trigger the state match.

As a result, hundreds of CU Boulder students have benefited from scholarships averaging about $2,500 per year. COSI recipients are much more likely to continue their education path and graduate than non-COSI counterparts, in part because financial support is matched with wraparound services like academic, social and cultural enrichment. Financial assistance alone doesn’t solve the opportunity gap. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

At CU Boulder we’re committed to making college more affordable and closing our own gaps in graduation rates across ethnic and racial groups, between rural and urban Coloradans, and especially for first-generation students.

This bill is crucial to our goals and helping our students cross the finish line with a degree in hand. That’s why we are reducing financial burdens and eliminating course and program fees, locking in our tuition, providing automatic scholarships for qualified Colorado resident students and transfer students and providing scholarships and grants for low-income students. 

It’s no secret: education is directly linked to economic health. The newest Education Pays report by the College Board, the nonprofit testing organization, shows the economic benefits of a college education: they are “numerous, substantial and durable.”

Graduates make more money ($24,900 more per year), use less public assistance, contribute more to the economy and they’re even healthier. As our economy undergoes a generational transformation, more than ever we need to train today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs.

This isn’t just the right thing to do for our economy and workforce. When students, faculty and staff engage with different perspectives and life experiences, we uphold a bedrock of higher education: the quest to nurture a plurality of voices which teaches us all.

In fact, public research universities can’t compete without a diversity of opinions and experiences. They drive innovation and challenge our preconceived notions to spark breakthroughs. They often lead to new solutions entirely.

William Wulf, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, said, “without diversity we would have designs that are never realized … ideas that are never conceptualized … and dreams that are never imagined.”

COSI is a shining example of public policy done right. We applaud the governor, Department of Higher Education and state legislature in their commitment to expand college access to more Colorado families.

We stand with them in supporting this bill. With a small investment we can help the next generation realize their designs, conceptualize their ideas and imagine their dreams. 

Phillip DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Rising Sun