Colorado lawmakers approve bill to make college free for 2 years

The Colorado Promise Act creates a tax credit for households making $90,000 or less per year.
College Campus
Posted at 6:00 PM, May 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 08:42:32-04

DENVER — Before Colorado lawmakers adjourned this year’s legislative session, they approved a bill to make the first two years of college free to thousands of students.

It creates a refundable income tax credit that would cover the cost of two years of in-state college for students whose families make under $90,000 dollars a year.

Like a lot of people their age, Hazel and Van, two students Denver7 met at Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School, have given a lot of thought to what comes after they graduate.

For Hazel, it's college to study computer science and possibly become a game designer.

“I've been interested in mainly games and how they are made since I was 10,” she said.

Colorado lawmakers approve bill to make college free for 2 years

Van also wants to go to college to study engineering and business.

“I’ll be the first generation student to go to college,” said Van.

There’s just one problem: They have to figure out how they’re going to pay for college.

“I was planning on applying to as many scholarships as I could,” Hazel said.

“I've thought about what's the cost going to be, what kind of scholarships am I going to receive to be able to afford college,” Van said.

Antonio Esquivel, principal at Abraham Lincoln, said many of his students are in the same boat when it comes to college.

“I think, first of all, students and families sometimes don't see it as attainable for different reasons and primarily the cost,” he said. “I think families and students try to figure out: 'What can I do?' 'How am I going to pay for college?'”

State Rep. Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, said a bipartisan bill she co-sponsored will do exactly that.

“I think this is going to make higher education attainable for more families,” Bird said.

House Bill 24-1340, titled "The Colorado Promise Act," creates a refundable income tax credit that would cover the cost of two years of in-state college for students whose families make less than $90,000 a year.

Colorado Promise Act

According to the Legislative Council Staff, which analyzed the bill, the tax credit is “equal to the tuition and fees paid by the eligible student to the institution minus any scholarships or grants.”

“We expect this will help over 28,000 students in Colorado,” Bird said. “We want middle-class families to be able to afford to send their kids to school in Colorado. We want middle-class families to know that benefits aren't only for those who are on the lower income scale. We want you to know that we're there for you too and that school is affordable for you as well.”

The bill was also sponsored by State Rep. Rick Taggart, R-Grand Junction, State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Brighton, and State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada.

Hazel and Van said they are both excited about what it could mean for students like them.

“I think it's going to be a great opportunity for them to go to college to complete their dreams without their financial health impacting their dreams,” Hazel said.

“This is amazing because I know there are a lot of people out there, specifically in Colorado, who want to go to college,” Van said. “Having the opportunity to gain two years of college, it can be a life-changing opportunity for them.”

Van is part of a program in that allows high school students to earn college credit. They can even obtain an associate's degree.

Esquivel said that means students in that program could get a four-year college degree free if they qualify for the Colorado Promise tax credit.

"A student potentially can earn a four year degree all paid for, right? Which is amazing because now that levels the playing field and gives an opportunity for our students that they've never had before," said Esquivel.

The bill has been sent to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. He has not signed it yet but spoke favorably about it at a press conference on Thursday.

“How exciting to break down barriers to access,” Polis said, adding that it was “a major achievement and will open the door of opportunity for so many Coloradans.”

House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, said it's amazing lawmakers were able to pass the bill amid everything else they were debating.

“I also feel like the 'sleeper of the session' may be that we have brought free college to the state somehow, right in the midst of all of our work,” said McCluskie.

If the bill becomes law, the tax credit will be available starting next year.

To qualify, students will have to be enrolled in at least six credit hours at a four-year college, community college or at a technical or occupational school.

They will also have to maintain a 2.5 GPA for the semester they are claiming the tax credit.

Officials from several colleges, including the University of Colorado, the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado State University and Western Colorado University, testified in favor of the bill.

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