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Proposed bill would make Colorado public college tuition free for foster youth

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 3% of former foster youth obtain a college degree.

DENVER — Before Vince Castillo went over notes for the seven people he helps as a peer leader through MSU Denver's Epic Scholars program, he reflected on his own journey. 

"Really the aspect to giving back, and just facilitating that, especially to people who have been in my shoes, was really the biggest calling nature for me," he said. 

Castillo did not come up through foster care, but was in a situation that made him eligible to utilize the Epic Scholars program. 

The program provides housing stipends and scholarships for MSU Denver students that came up through foster care and other difficult backgrounds. 

It's roughly estimated that around 60% of the program's 52 spots are filled by former foster youth.

Now, there's a bill making its way through committees that would set up a statewide tuition waiver for those who either came up through the foster care "or, following an adjudication as neglected or dependent, in noncertified kinship care in Colorado at any time on or after reaching the age of 13."

Credit: Luis de Leon
MSU Denver's Student Care Center.

Senate Bill 22-008

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 3% of former foster youth obtain a college degree.

An analysis from the University of Washington shows that 24 states have statewide tuition waivers for those in foster care who meet certain eligibility requirements.

Colorado is not on that list. 

However, Colorado does have an Education and Training Voucher Program, among other things. 

This bill, according to the introduced text, would require public Colorado colleges to waive undergraduate tuition and fees for Colorado resident students who have been in foster care.

The bill, sponsored by two Democrats (Sen. Rachel Zenzinger and Rep. Barbara McLachlan) and two Republicans (Sen. Kevin Priola and Rep. Hugh McKean), made it through the Colorado Senate Education Committee. 

The bill passed through the committee 5-2. One of the "no" votes came from Republican Sen. Paul Lundeen, who said he appreciated the goals of the bill, but didn't feel it would be the right policy response.

"I do want to say I perceive the need. I do not perceive this as the optimized policy response," he said.

The bill will now move on to the Senate Committee of Appropriations with amendments.

Credit: Luis de Leon
Vince Castillo, a peer leader at MSU Denver's Epic Scholars Program.

Epic Scholars

The Epic Scholars Program at MSU Denver offers non-clinical case management services, community building and more. 

"I think that's our main goal to make sure that they have whatever they need in order to succeed in school," said Erica Quintana-Garcia, who is the Assistant Dean of students as well as the Director of the Student Care Center, which is where Epic Scholars is located. "Former foster youth or independent students face a number of challenges when going to school. So we want to make sure that we help in any way possible to connect them to the limited resources that are out there. And I think getting financial support is something that is extremely important for this population in particular."

According to the bill, it's projected that around 4,500 students would be eligible for the waived tuition. 

At Epic Scholars, the demand is shown through the program reaching capacity for its 52 spots. 

"But we know there are more independent students out there at MSU Denver that we want to be able to support. And especially with this new legislation, hopefully people will be able to see that higher education is absolutely attainable for them," Quintana-Garcia said.

Castillo believes the legislation would support others. 

"I feel like it gives individuals really after the age of 13 just a chance to pursue higher education without any limitations," he said.

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