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Denver city council expands eligibility for college fund

Voters passed a sales tax to create the Denver College Affordability Fund in 2018. Only a fraction has been distributed to students.

DENVER — Denver voters in 2018 approved a 0.08% sales tax to create a fund for college scholarships. But the group in charge of handing out that money says they're only able to pass out about one-third of it. 

Prosperity Denver Fund said the ordinance passed by voters has been too restrictive. On Monday, city council members approved changes to the program to expand eligibility.

The tax-funded nonprofit organization reimburses local nonprofits that give out scholarships to low-income students. The goal of the fund is to increase enrollment at Colorado technical schools, community colleges and universities. 

In April Prosperity Denver Fund CEO Matt Jordan told city council members the ordinance passed by voters only allows his group to distribute one-third of the money they have available. He said the 36-month residency requirement eliminated more students each year. 

"It eliminates our ability to serve the most vulnerable students in our community and it's a big burden on our community partners," said Jordan at an April 19 meeting.

More than a dozen organizations sent letters to city council with the same concerns. Denver Scholarship Foundation said 20% of their scholars, 125 students, didn't qualify for the fund because of the residency requirement. 

On Monday, May 22, city council members made changes to the program in an 11 to 2 vote. Now a student up to 25 years old must have graduated from a high school in Denver or lived in the city six months before their first day of post-secondary school. 

"Many of our alumni are being priced out or they can’t come back once they leave so we want them to be able to be the leaders and change makers in the city," said Richard Maez, Senior Director of Strategy and Impact with Ednium: The Alumni Collective. 

Maez's group partners with DPS alumni under 30 years old. He said it's been more clear in the last year that more people aren't able to live in the city. Ednium: The Alumni Collective supported the residency change. They also encouraged expanding the age limit from 25 to 30, which city council approved as well. 

In its letter to city council, Ednium: The Alumni Collective said over 50% of DPS students do not attend college immediately after high school. 

"We want to make sure we are doing right by the voters and the city who invested in this," said Maez.

More reporting by Kelly Reinke:

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