Signed into law on June 6, 2014, the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) was created to address the Colorado Paradox, the state’s high proportion of adults with college degrees is due to credentialed migrants moving in instead of reflecting an educated homegrown workforce. COSI would expand the use of best practices throughout the state through a funding model that received bi-partisan approval. By leveraging state funds to generate local giving, the program grows community efforts and engages private donors to increase available scholarships well beyond the investment from the state. Knowing that scholarships must be paired with student supports to impact completion rates, the program’s Matching Student Scholarship (MSS) component complements the Community Partner Program (CPP) grants. By reaching students from a range of socio-economic classes (from 0-250 percent Pell-eligible) underserved students, for whom college seems out-of-reach, are able to not only afford a degree but also access the support they need to persist and graduate.
In the first five years, COSI has already awarded $47 million of state funds, leveraged $28 million in additional local and private dollars, and has served more than 75,000 students in 61/64 Colorado counties. Internal studies using the latest available data (2018-2019) show most COSI students enrolled in CPP program—85 percent—persist in their education path, 19 percentage points higher than peers of similar demographic groups. Students who receive COSI scholarships perform even better: 89 percent continue on in their second year, outpacing their non-COSI counterparts by 17 percentage points. When looking at students receiving both scholarship and support services, persistence numbers jump to 94%.
Approaching its third year, the Board initiated the review of the initial implementation of the Initiative and asked to develop a plan moving forward through the Hickenlooper administration. In Spring 2016, COSI staff engaged in a three-month strategic planning process to understand the current landscape in which the Initiative exists, evaluate community perceptions of the Initiative through focus groups, and reaffirm the mission and vision established alongside the inception of the Initiative in Fall 2014. The Director then presented the findings of the community meetings to the Board for discussion, where together, the Board and staff developed metrics and annual goals. The strategic plan was confirmed and passed by resolution in October 2016.
The Strategic plan maps out measures for the program including:
- Increases in postsecondary enrollment rates
- Increases persistence rates
- Increases certificate and degree completion in 100 percent time
- Increases certificate and degree completion in 150 percent time
- Reductions in average student debt
The success of the state economy will depend on a credentialed workforce with post high school training and education. We envision an innovative program that leverages public and private investment to make post-high school education available to more Colorado students who are empowered to graduate with a degree or certificate. Those students will be positioned to earn a livable wage, graduate with less debt, and positively contribute to the growth of their state’s economy.
The Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative seeks to couple tuition assistance and student supports to ensure that every Colorado student has affordable access to postsecondary opportunities, and can complete a degree or certificate necessary to enter their desired position in Colorado’s workforce. By leveraging a $35 million investment from the State of Colorado in 2014, we will build a state-wide network demonstrating promising and proven practices that address issues of affordability and access. Demonstrated success will encourage annual contributions from the General Assembly and community partners to fund scholarships in future years.