Colorado Legislation Would Expand Scholarships, Boost Free Community College

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis last week threw his support behind bipartisan bills to boost scholarships and community college education.
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Bennett Leckrone is a news writer for BestColleges. Before joining BestColleges, Leckrone reported on state politics with the nonprofit news outlet Maryland Matters as a Report for America fellow. He previously interned for The Chronicle of Higher Ed...
Published on March 27, 2023
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  • The Colorado bills would provide $1,500 scholarships to graduating high school seniors and boost free community college in high-demand fields.
  • High-demand fields covered by the proposed almost $40 million community college plan include early childhood education, construction, and others.
  • The bipartisan legislation won the support of Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who said the measures would cut back on the state's workforce shortage.
  • Colorado and other states have faced a shortage of workers in several key fields in recent years.

A pair of bipartisan bills would provide thousands of graduating Colorado high school students with $1,500 scholarships to pursue high-demand fields.

Senate Bill 23-205, the "Universal High School Scholarship Program," would provide scholarships of up to $1,500 to students pursuing certificates, apprenticeships, or degrees in high-demand fields. The legislation would require the General Assembly to send $25 million toward the program.

Those scholarships could serve up to 15,000 graduating students in the 2024 class, according to Colorado lawmakers. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bridges (D) and Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen (R), and Reps. Matthew Martinez (D) and Don Wilson (R).

House Bill 23-1246 would send $38.6 million toward community colleges to provide credentials in high-demand fields at zero cost to students. That legislation would offer students free training at community and technical colleges in high-demand fields like early childhood education, forest management, and construction, according to the press release.

That legislation is sponsored by House Speaker Julie McCluskie (D), Assistant House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese (R), Senate Majority Caucus Chair Janet Buckner (D), and Sen. Perry Will (R).

Both bills won the support of Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who said at a March 15 press conference that the legislation would help the state cut back on its workforce shortage.

"We are saving people money on training and education, making it easier for Coloradans to get the skills they need to fill critical jobs and build careers they love," Polis said, according to the release.

"Today, Colorado has two open jobs for every unemployed person, which is why we are taking bold action now to make sure employers find the talent they need, and breaking down barriers for Coloradans to achieve their dreams."

McCluskie underscored how the legislation would "open the door to new, high-demand careers across Colorado."

"Our bill makes it easier for aspiring professionals seeking careers as firefighters, nurses and early childhood educators to upskill and reskill through free training, certification and advanced education courses," McCluskie said of the free credential bill, according to the release.

"These new, free pathways will boost our workforce and help fill open positions in critical jobs so more Coloradans can start the professions of their dreams and serve their communities."

Polis proposed $70 million to provide free training in high-demand fields as part of his latest budget earlier this year in a bid to cut back on the state's workforce shortage, BestColleges previously reported.

Colorado and other states have struggled in recent years with a shortage of workers in various industries, from early childhood education to construction and cybersecurity.

BestColleges reported that community colleges are often seen as key partners in cutting back on that shortage, with big tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft partnering with two-year schools to train workers.

The $1,500 scholarship bill "is a win-win for Coloradans looking for good-paying jobs and Colorado businesses trying to hire for those jobs," Bridges said, according to the release.

"We are providing Coloradans with resources and flexibility to get the training and education they need to fill jobs across the state. This support for Colorado workers supports our economy, our workers, and our businesses," Lundeen said of the proposed scholarships.