Tormohlen: Good news for college-bound students | AspenTimes.com

Tormohlen: Good news for college-bound students

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

Anyone out there, either parent or student, thinking about getting a college education? Take note, because January is when most scholarships begin accepting applications.

Yes, now is the time for high school seniors and their parents — if they haven't already — to begin thinking about creative ways to help pay for college or whatever postsecondary plans they might have. The good news for local families is that there are more scholarship opportunities out there than ever before, and local high schools are better equipped to advise students and steer them toward the most suitable colleges and certificate programs and to help them find the best-fitting scholarship opportunities.

The greater Roaring Fork Valley is already blessed with dozens of local and regional scholarships to help kids realize their dreams. In June, between Aspen and Basalt high schools alone, a hefty $684,000 was awarded to 110 graduates to aid in their postsecondary education.

We already know that by 2020, more than three-quarters of jobs in Colorado will require either a certificate or degree, and yet only a quarter of high school graduates in our region complete such a program. One of the main barriers is cost, and that's why scholarships are so important. This year, the choices available to our students have expanded, and I'd like to mention two examples.

First, the Fast Forward Scholarship was created in 2014 by Glenwood Springs resident Paul D. Bushong Jr. to help graduating seniors at Glenwood, Roaring Fork, Bridges and Yampah high schools who want to pursue career training instead of a four-year degree. Last academic year, nine students from those schools received a total of $57,000 to enroll in cosmetology, nursing, welding and media programs.

Part of Bushong's vision was to assist young people who might otherwise be overlooked. Many other "targeted" scholarships exist to aid kids in certain communities who have particular skills or specific backgrounds.

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Second, the Aspen Community Foundation recently secured and matched a grant from the Colorado Department of Higher Education that will result in a total of $155,000 in scholarships for eligible students in Garfield County. Acting as a fiscal agent for Garfield County, the foundation intends to pay out these awards over four years, thus helping students to complete their college journey with as little debt as possible. (Most scholarships provide support for one year only.) Scholarships are available to students from low-income families who will attend Colorado public institutions of higher learning and who participate in high school student support programs that provide mentoring and guidance and steer students toward college- and university-level work.

Linking student support programs to scholarships is one way of creating a smooth track from high school to the postsecondary world. But college counseling is another key component, and big strides are occurring in that realm, too.

A project of the Cradle to Career Initiative, Post High School Success is a collaborative venture between the Aspen Community Foundation and the nine high schools in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. Through the project, dedicated college and career counselors have been placed in each high school, ensuring that all students have access to the guidance needed to create a post-high school plan. These counselors will be flag-bearers for postsecondary education, but they'll also help students identify scholarships and financial aid, helping to close the financial gaps that hold so many kids back.

Already, the school districts in Aspen and the greater Roaring Fork Valley graduate their seniors at rates above the state average — 99 percent in Aspen and 83 percent in Roaring Fork in 2014. But nowadays it takes more than a high school degree to succeed and thrive in the workforce.

The bottom line here is that, with each passing year, our school districts and communities are providing more services to local students in a multifaceted effort to prepare them for success in a fast-paced, wired world. Strategic partnerships with Colorado Mountain College, the state Department of Higher Education, our local schools, nonprofit organizations and many more are ensuring that all of our students will be ready for college and careers.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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