Colorado Student Loans
State Government Invests Money in a College Trust Fund
Since 2004, the state of Colorado has used a new method of funding higher education. Instead of sending financial appropriations directly to individual state universities, which is the traditional means of ensuring educational opportunity for college students, Colorado pays money to those universities on behalf of the students who attend and have applied for the aid program, called the College Opportunity Fund (COF). The payment appears as a credit on the student’s tuition bill.
How Well Has COF Succeeded?
The original 2004 legislation required the state to conduct an analysis of COF’s results and report back to the legislature by 2010 on how well the new system was working, and accordingly a study was ordered in 2008. No other state had ever tried such a program, and Colorado was anxious to know how well its experiment worked. COF had several stated goals: to let universities operate more like businesses in terms of raising tuition and issuing debt, to introduce competition among universities in the hope of improving services and efficiency, and to broaden access to groups thought to be underrepresented in Colorado universities (including poorer students, minorities, and male students).
Interestingly, initiating COF had the opposite of the intended effect on the student population: underrepresented students became less likely to go to college, bucking the national trend of rising college attendance. The report noted a number of reasons why that was so. For instance, the value of the COF funding for individual students, referred to as the student’s stipend and paid in a fixed amount for each credit hour, continues to fluctuate annually, making it hard to predict how much money students can depend on from year to year.
Only students at public universities receive full stipend funding, because the stipend is cut in half for students who attend participating private universities. There is a limit of 145 credit hours on the funding available for each student, beyond which there is no COF support for college education. There is no allowance made for financially needy students: all students are limited to a single amount of funding, regardless of their ability to pay.
COF: The Simplest College Funding Program
From the student’s point of view, COF has two outstanding benefits. First, Colorado expects no repayment. Since they pay your school, your COF account is not considered a gift for tax purposes, but nevertheless it is a gift in practical terms, a partial payment of your tuition costs. It does not affect your eligibility for other forms of financial aid. Both tuition rates and stipend rates may vary from year to year, but if you are accepted for COF you know some portion of your cost will be paid outright.
The second benefit is the unmatched simplicity of obtaining the stipend. Eligibility rules are brief, the student applies once for his entire college career, and the stipend remains the same no matter what one’s individual circumstances. The sole distinction made is between students at public and private universities.
Eligibility for COF has two sets of criteria applying to those attending public and private universities. For undergraduates enrolled at public universities:
- You must qualify as an in-state student and receive that tuition rate.
- You must have applied and been accepted to COF, and used your COF account (containing 145 credit hours) to request payment to your school.
- You must have some undergraduate credit hours remaining of the original 145, or you must have completed one undergraduate degree and be pursuing a second, which gives you 30 more stipend hours.
Three private universities in Colorado (Colorado Christian University, Regis University, and the University of Denver) also participate in the COF program. Students who attend those schools may be eligible if the following conditions are met:
- You must qualify as an in-state student.
- You have graduated from a high school in Colorado or completed home schooling and earned a GED (if the private school permits).
- You must be eligible for a Pell grant, which necessitates financial need.
- You must not have used all 145 credit hours, or you must be working on your second degree as above.
All students who receive COF must be able to provide what Colorado calls “verification of lawful presence,” or documentation stating you have a legal right to be in this country. Here are the forms of identification Colorado accepts:
- A current Colorado driver’s license or non-driver state ID
- A military ID or a military dependent’s ID card
- A card issued by the Coast Guard to merchant mariners
- A Native American tribal ID, or
- Another document approved under the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Permanent Rules for Evidence of Lawful Presence.
Have You Exceeded Your 145-Hour COF Limit?: Waivers
If you have exhausted the 145 credit hours with which your COF account was originally stocked, there are two ways in which you may obtain a waiver. You must always request a waiver from your school before turning to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE), which is the second fallback grantor. If your school denies your waiver request, then CCHE will consider your case.