Major changes are on the way for an ambitious Weld County program designed to help residents attend college.
“The changes that are coming in the program are to create sustainability,” said Amy Tallent, interim Bright Futures exective director.
Tallent spoke Wednesday during an hour-long meeting with The Tribune Editorial Board to discuss the evolving program.
Bright Futures was announced with plenty of fanfare in 2015. It is designed to help students pay for the cost of postsecondary education. It initially promised nearly all Weld County high school graduates $3,000 per year — up to a maximum of $12,000 for four years — to attend a higher education institution. The same promise went to Weld residents who have a GED, as well as honorably discharged veterans.
The program was launched with a commitment of at least $15 million in taxpayer money from Weld County to make the program work. However, officials always had planned for the program to rely on private donations. County officials intended to use much of the money for property tax deductions for residents who donated to the program.
However, donations have been slow to materialize. In July, members of the Board of Weld County Commissioners turned over responsibility Bright Futures operations to a six-member board housed under Upstate Colorado Economic Development. Board members began working in August on changes to make the program sustainable.
- Adjust the annual amount a student can receive to $2,000.
- Require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — also known as FAFSA — annually. This will help program administrators ensure students are taking advantage of all financial aid available to them before the Bright Futures dollars are applied.
- Change the guideline that the stipend must be used within 10 years from the graduation or completion of a GED. It will require recipients to begin their postsecondary education within two years and completed it within six years. This will give officials more certainty as they plan for the program’s future, Tallent said.
- Move the stipend from “first dollar in” to “last dollar in.” That means that the Bright Futures money will be applied along with all other scholarships or stipends a student receives. Officials said this will save the program money.
- Require an annual 16 hours of community service in Weld County from each student in the program.
Beginning in 2019, officials also will limit the geographic scope of the program. Initially, students could take Bright Futures money to virtually any school in the country. The change will limit the program only to schools in Colorado and schools in states that border Colorado.
“For students who are already out there and doing stuff, we wanted to give them a year to adjust and make sure they’re not being hit over the head,” said Rich Werner, Upstate Colorado Economic Development president and member of the Bright Futures board.
Officials also are working to improve their fundraising. Tallent said they’ve drafted a five-year plan with the goal of ensuring that 50 percent of the funding for Bright Futures will come from private-sector donations. Officials did not offer many specifics about how they would boost fundraising.
Still, Scott Ehrlich, a Bright Futures board member, said fundraising drove many of the changes.
“In order to make this thing sustainable, we know we need to spend less, but we also have to raise more,” Ehrlich said. “A lot of these changes are geared directly at making the investors more comfortable.”
Werner said the Bright Futures program is a game changer for Weld County when it comes to attracting business to the area.
“We’re looking at it from an economic development perspective,” Werner said. “We need to facilitate that pipeline to the next generation of the workforce. That’s a key component of this.”
From Nate Miller with the Greeley Tribune, as published 1/10/18