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Making education accessible

Voice of Reason


‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

So said Nelson Mandela, and who are we to argue?

The simple fact is that higher education has the capacity to revitalize communities, cities — to truly change the world. So the Independent commends a group of Colorado Springs institutions that have committed to taking innovative approaches to closing the education gap that inevitably has sprung up between the city’s better-off and those who often have to choose between paying tuition or putting food in their bellies.

The first commitment is a partnership between Harrison School District 2, Pikes Peak Community College and two local nonprofit foundations that will provide a two-year, full-ride scholarship to qualified D-2 graduates, starting with the class of 2020. That means students who maintain at least a 2.5 GPA during their junior and senior years, who apply for admission to PPCC and who apply for the grant will get all tuition, fees, books, transportation — even their food — covered. They will also be partnered with coaches to help them navigate the sometimes-rough waters of student life.

Dubbed the Dakota Promise Scholarship, the first three years of the project are expected to cost $650,000. The Dakota Foundation is partnering with the education-focused Legacy Institute to foot the bill. Starting in Year 4, D-2 will take it over and ensure sustainability.
The second commitment comes from Colorado College. The Colorado Pledge is a pilot program designed to help low- and middle-income Colorado families send their students to the elite (and at nearly $58,000 per year for tuition alone, relatively expensive) private institution.

The program operates on a sliding scale and includes free tuition, fees and books for families making under $60,000 a year. The goal is to boost socioeconomic diversity and attract more students from families with adjusted gross incomes of $200,000 or less.

These are commitments of extraordinary value … way beyond that of their pricetags.

According to the Colorado Community College System, for every dollar invested in community college education, students receive $4.30 in lifetime earnings, $5.70 is gained in added taxes and public sector savings and $11.30 is gained in added state revenue and social savings. And the St. Paul, Minnesota-based advocacy organization College Possible reports that the average bachelor’s degree holder will funnel $278,000 more into the local economy than the average wage-earner with only a high school diploma.

A degree can mean the difference between a dead-end job and a lifelong career, and all of the financial advantages that brings. Higher education translates to higher earning potential; that leads to more spending power and more self-sufficiency.

It is commendable that our institutions of higher education and their partners saw not just a need, but a way to address that need. And while it’s still far too early to identify all the benefits these pilot programs will have on Colorado Springs, we are confident they are coming.

When a student who otherwise faced the choice between paying tuition or feeding themselves is able to earn their diploma, we all win. These programs are more than just a “Promise” or a “Pledge” — they’re investments that should last for generations to come.

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