Colorado State University - Pueblo

Removing Financial Barriers for Underserved Students With Promise

To remove financial barriers to higher education, this university laid the foundation for two programs that offer free tuition to students whose families fall in the low- and moderate-income brackets and are in underserved communities.

Colorado State University (CSU) Pueblo has launched two enrollment initiatives to make higher education affordable as part of its ambitious mission to be a people’s university by 2028, a goal of the university’s Vision 2028 strategic plan. These new programs seek to eliminate financial barriers by offering free tuition to in-state Colorado students with a family income of $50,000 or less. Colorado Promise was announced in December 2021 for new, first-time undergraduates entering in fall 2022; Pack Promise was announced for continuing students in April 2022 for fall 2022 as well. The former program seeks to encourage the momentum of new student enrollment that increased from fall 2020 to fall 2022, according to a university media release. The latter one is intended to drive reenrollment among students struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and various economic downturns rippling through the state.

Together, these two campaigns serve as a core initiative to make higher education affordable, particularly for students from low- and moderate-income family brackets. At this time, 90% of CSU Pueblo’s student population receives financial aid to pursue the university’s more than 70 areas of study, according to the university’s website. Of the entire university population, minority student enrollment hovers at 48%, of which nearly 40% are Hispanic. Because it surpassed the required minimum of 25% of enrolled Latinx students, the university earned the Hispanic-Serving Institution federal designation. Through their financial and academic incentives, Colorado Promise and Pack Promise are expected to boost and shore up CSU Pueblo’s enrollment efforts, leading to a stronger, more sustainable campus in Pueblo County.

The Methodology

For more than three years, CSU Pueblo and the CSU Pueblo Foundation, which provides financial support for the university, committed to securing the funds necessary to support the tuition guarantees for the students in the Colorado Promise and Pack Promise programs. The university’s affordability at the outset helped make funding these programs possible. According to the College Scorecard, the university’s tuition is almost $6,000 less than the midpoint for four-year institutions nationally.

A cross-functional team of campus stakeholders from admissions, financial aid, and marketing orchestrated the rollout of these groundbreaking Promise campaigns to the community. They used strategic marketing efforts including ads in local movie theaters, outreach to high schools and community organizations, and special sessions in the homes of students and family members where campus leaders shared information about CSU Pueblo and the opportunity offered by the Promise programs. Interest and progress in the two programs are measured through inquiries, completed applications and Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and enrollment figures of eligible students. For one year, qualified applicants receive a scholarship that covers any remaining tuition after state and federal financial aid has been awarded and applied. To be considered for additional years, they must reapply.

The Impact

At the time of this writing, the actual number of students participating in the Promise campaigns is not expected to be known until later this year, but early indicators reveal that these programs have been a rousing success. To date, 423 new, first-time students are eligible for Colorado Promise—well beyond the 222 baseline of eligible students identified from prior years, or the 272 CSU Pueblo students targeted for enrollment in fall 2022. Pack Promise for continuing students currently has 354 students eligible for the program. CSU Pueblo is optimistic that the Promise programs in tandem will alleviate the financial ambiguity of students from underserved communities and low and moderate family incomes so they can enroll and reenroll until they graduate successfully.

Key Takeaways

Universities and colleges considering similar tuition programs should carefully research the financial impact this enrollment initiative will have on their budgets. The determination of income thresholds and eligibility requirements can effectuate drastically different financial impacts. CSU Pueblo began with specific eligibility requirements for each semester, including a maximum family income, full-time enrollment, a maximum 15-credit course load, and minimum GPA. Based on the number of eligible undergraduates, these programs could be supported financially through the efforts of the CSU Pueblo Foundation. And the programs’ eligibility requirements are expected to expand in the future.

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