Weld County students to qualify for $3,000 per year toward college tuition starting in 2016 | MyWindsorNow.com

Weld County students to qualify for $3,000 per year toward college tuition starting in 2016

Tyler Silvy and Catherine Sweeney
tsilvy@greeleytribune.com

Nearly every Weld County resident who wants to pursue higher education will have $3,000 waiting for them in 2016 — and every year after that.

Commissioners unveiled the Weld County Bright Futures grant program Tuesday at Aims Community College's Cornerstone Building. That program promises nearly all of Weld County high school graduates $3,000 per year — up to a maximum of $12,000 for four years — to attend a higher education institution. The same promise is made to Weld residents who have a GED, as well as honorably discharged veterans. All they have to do is fill out a form.

About 2,500 students graduate from Weld County high schools each year. Including residents with a GED and those who are honorably discharged veterans, commissioners put a high-end estimate at 3,000 grants provided per year.

There isn't another program exactly like it in the country, said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway.

Donors give money to the county, and it goes directly to a trust fund for the grant program. Weld County gives 50 percent back to the donor in the form of a property tax rebate. With tax credits from the state and federal governments added to the mix, homeowners who donate $100 can expect to get more than $80 back.

Although there is no cap on refunds, donors cannot have their entire property tax bill rebated. In the case of a donation that is more than double a homeowner's or business owner's property tax bill, the county will divide the rebate over several years.

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To make it work, county commissioners set aside $15 million this year, and will set aside more money, as necessary, in future years.

Because of the high return on donations, commissioners said they are confident they will get the necessary donations to cover the annual costs. If they don't, it's unclear how the county will choose which students get grants.

At Aims, the $3,000 grant would more than cover two semesters, which is about $2,540 for two 15-credit hour semesters for in-district students.

At the University of Northern Colorado, it would cover about 40 percent of the university's $8,000-per-year tuition and fees for in-state students.

Grant recipients can use the money to go to any university — public or private, in state or out of state. But they don't have to go to a traditional, four-year school. They can use it for any post-secondary education, including trade school and professional training.

"If they want to be a chef, schoolteacher, plumber, they've got the opportunity to do that," Kirkmeyer said.

The oil and gas industry's presence has dramatically increased the county's assessed property value and generated more revenue. Commissioners see the new grant program as a perfect place to spend some of the extra money.

"It's an investment back into our community by the Board of County Commissioners," Kirkmeyer said during a Greeley Tribune Editorial Board meeting Monday.

It's such a unique approach that county commissioners had to get Colorado state law changed to do it.

With the help of numerous state senators and representatives, including Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, commissioners did just that. Gov. John Hickenlooper made Senate Bill 82 law March 13, paving the way for Colorado counties to offer property tax credits to donors who support workforce initiatives, which is exactly what Weld County is calling its new program that commissioners hope will increase Weld workers' skills.

According to commissioners, it will do other things as well.

» It will serve as a carrot to push more high school students to graduate.

» Help motivate college students to stick with it to complete degree programs.

» Entice more businesses to locate within Weld County.

» Boost wages and stabilize the economy for years to come.

"We talk about no child left behind," County Commissioner Steve Moreno said during the editorial board meeting. "This truly is no family left behind."

Moreno and his fellow commissioners took the first steps to that end Tuesday, making the first donations to the fund — $500 apiece. The donation came with an impromptu performance, as Kirkmeyer walked audience members through how to donate.

Chuckles spread across the expansive ballroom at Aims' Cornerstone Building when Kirkmeyer finished with, "Then lick the envelope, and you're finished."

Attendees licked the envelopes to the tune of $10,000 in donations at Tuesday's event.

While some rolled up their sleeves and took out their wallets, all of the educators in attendance seemed to lick their chops.

Superintendents from most of Weld 's K-12 school districts were in attendance, including new Greeley-Evans School District 6 Superintendent Deirdre Pilch.

"It's a huge commitment that Weld County is making for our young people," Pilch said. "There's significant generosity here and a significant commitment to young people."

Fort Lupton Re-8 School District Superintendent John Hoag said the program could be a boon to his district, in which about 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

"Because of the level of poverty, so many choose to go right into the workforce," Hoag said.

That's especially important in Weld, where roughly half of high school graduates go on to college, according to a Colorado Department of Higher Education report released this past summer.

Each school administrator contacted about the program thought that number would improve thanks to the county's new program.

"I'm just excited about it," said Don Rangel, Valley Re-1 School District superintendent. "I'm excited from the standpoint that, as a county, we're working together to have something really positive happening for kids."

Educational leaders react

“I think this grant program is outstanding. This program puts dollars into the promise that we offer to students — that every student can be college and career ready.”

– Deirdre Pilch, District 6 superintendent

“I think it’s a great idea. It’s the people of the area taking responsibility for supporting their own.”

– Kay Norton, UNC president

“This is not a hand out but a hand up. The citizens of Weld County are doing their part by investing in our future leaders. This is a win-win-win.”

– Leah Bornstein, Aims president, in a prepared statement

• • •

How to apply

Applications won’t be available until later this fall, and funds won’t be dispersed until fall 2016. When applications are ready, they’ll be available online at http://www.weldcountybrightfutures.com. Those eligible for the grants include all students who graduate from high school starting in 2016, who are legally residing in Weld County, and have been residents of Weld County at least two of the last four years; one of those years being the year of graduation from high school.

These people are also eligible:

» A Weld County resident who graduates from a high school outside of Weld County

» An individual who earns a GED after May 2016 who has resided in Weld County four years before the application date.

» Any honorably discharged veteran who graduated from a Weld County high school since 2006 and currently lives in Weld County.

Once you get the money, you must:

» Make regular progress toward a degree or certification

» Maintain a 2.0 GPA

» Complete a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester (part-time students may be eligible for prorated benefits)

There is no family income gap, and really no restrictions except the fact that grant recipients must not be undocumented immigrants.

• • •

How to donate

Go online to http://www.weldcountybrightfutures.com and click on the large green button with a lightbulb logo along the left side of the website. From there, you’ll be asked to submit your information. Only property owners in Weld County will be eligible for the Weld County Property Tax Credit. That tax credit will be 50 percent of your donation. So, if you donate $1,000, you will receive a $500 property tax credit. Combined with state and federal income tax deductions that come along with charitable giving, a $1,000 donation will end up costing $173.70, according to information provided by Weld County.

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