CollegeInvest program smart investment in area's future

Filed under: Opinion |

Every day, we make investments in our community to ensure its long-term stability and vitality. Improving roads, protecting open space and upgrading infrastructure are some examples of those investments.

Now, through an innovative new program, El Paso County and the City of Colorado Springs have teamed up with CollegeInvest, a nonprofit division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, to make an even greater investment in our future – our students’ education.

Why is an educated populace important to our county? Earning a college degree opens the door to future opportunities and increases a person’s earning potential. Additionally, a more educated society makes for a more attractive place to live, work and visit.

The CollegeInvest Graduation Reward Program is a student loan forgiveness plan meant not only to encourage El Paso County students to go college, but also to make the price tag on earning a degree more affordable.

The program offers 2005 and 2006 El Paso County public high school graduates up to $1,500 in student loan forgiveness upon completing a degree from a local technical school, college or university.

From a graduate’s perspective, $1,500 is equivalent to about 14 months worth of student loan payments. This graduation reward will save students nearly 20 percent of their student loan principal.

From the county and city’s perspective, this is an opportunity to help develop a well-educated work force and maximize local economic growth and prosperity. In additon to attracting businesses and increasing tax bases, a well-educated population participates in civic activities, including voting and volunteering, at a much higher level. A well-educated population also has lower rates of unemployment, poverty and incarceration. Reducing these burdens significantly eases public budgets and raises the quality of life for all residents.

There is no dispute that El Paso County is a great place to live and work. Yet, where the county – and by extension, our state – fall behind is in the education of native Colo-radans. But wait, you say, “Isn’t Colorado one of the most educated states in the nation?”

The fact is, Colorado has one of the most highly educated populations in the country. That is because most of our college-educated residents moved here post-graduation. When it comes to Colorado natives, only 39 percent of Colorado’s high school freshmen go to college within four years.

Often referred to as the “Colorado Paradox,” this trend is troubling.

Unless we consistently seek new and creative ways to encourage students to pursue higher education – either through a vocational certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree – we will find ourselves facing a dim economic future.

The CollegeInvest Graduation Reward Program is just one program available to help make college more accessible for El Paso County students. Colorado’s affordable in-state tuition, coupled with a wide variety of financing tools including scholarships, loans and grants, puts college well within the reach of most students.

Investing in educational opportunities for our students yields more return than any other investment our community can make. It is an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up.

Born and raised in El Paso County, County Commission Chairman Jim Bensberg is a third generation Colorado native. To find out more about the CollegeInvest Graduation Reward Program and to register, visit www.College Invest.org/GRP or call (800) COLLEGE.