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Colorado colleges and universities would get a special designation if they enroll a high number of students who are the first in their families to go to college, under a bill at the Capitol this year.
The largely symbolic measure has fed a bigger debate about how Colorado funds its public colleges. It also spurred a conversation about what first-generation students need to be successful.
The first generation-serving label that House Bill 1114 would create would attach to schools that enroll those students at a higher rate than the state average. It would also require Colorado’s higher education department to track how well students do at those schools.
The bill would not require schools to create additional programs to help those students get to and through college. Nor would it offer colleges more money to provide such support.
Money and support make a difference for students, said Diane Schorr, director of advocacy and initiatives at the Center for First-generation Student Success. She questioned why the state wouldn’t ensure colleges with the new designation get either.
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“What I would have liked to have seen is what’s being required of the institution?” Schorr said.
Supporters of the bill — including Metropolitan State University and Colorado Mesa University — would like to prod the state to better fund schools that serve a large share of first-generation students. These schools often have lower graduation rates, something that works against them in Colorado’s funding formula. It also costs a lot of money to run the programs that help first-generation students.
Opponents of the bill, including Colorado State University, say that who enrolls the most first-generation students shouldn’t matter. Instead, they say that state funding should follow those students wherever they enroll. With limited state funding for higher education, more money for certain institutions can mean less for others.