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Staying Home for College: Scholarships keep high-achieving students in Pueblo

Sarah Mize (Photo by Sara Knuth)

Before Colorado State University-Pueblo junior Sarah Mize knew about the scholarship that would determine where she spent her college years, she was planning to attend the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

A native of Pueblo, she wanted to leave home, she said, and “experience the typical college life.”

And if she followed that plan, she would have joined the roughly 621 students from Pueblo who left town for college after graduating from high school in 2013, according to a Colorado Department of Higher Education college enrollment report.

But just as she was making a decision about college, she learned about the Kane Family Foundation Scholarship, a full-ride four-year scholarship to CSU-Pueblo.

“Truthfully, the Pueblo County kids can do very well in terms of scholarships.” – Nick Potter, director of annual giving and scholarships at the CSU-Pueblo Foundation

“After going to one of CSU-Pueblo’s Discover Days, I discovered what the Kane scholarship was from one of the faculty members and heard about how amazing it was,” she said.

“I also started seriously looking into the opportunities at CSU-Pueblo and was greatly persuaded to stay in Pueblo and attend my hometown school.”

For CSU-Pueblo, Mize’s decision highlights a needed demographic of students: Pueblo natives. Through relatively recent declines in enrollment, one of the school’s largest clusters of students has been Puebloans.

The Kane scholarship, which pays for tuition, student fees and books, is only applicable to college-bound students who graduated from high schools in Pueblo County. Every year, the CSU-Pueblo Foundation, the school’s separately-run fundraising organization, selects one student from each high school to receive the scholarship.

Mize got the scholarship and instead of going away, she joined a large group of CSU-Pueblo students who received a scholarship intended to keep Pueblo’s high achieving students in town.

“Truthfully, the Pueblo County kids can do very well in terms of scholarships,” said Nick Potter, the director of annual giving and scholarships at the CSU-Pueblo Foundation.

Potter said other awards, including the Beck-Ortner Scholarship, the Hirsch-Pueblo Central High School Scholarship and the Clem and Marg Hausman Scholarship, also have Pueblo-geared intentions.

The Beck-Ortner, for example, requires that applicants graduate from Central or Centennial High Schools and, as its name suggests, the Hirsch-Pueblo Central High School Scholarship only applies to graduates of Central High who have a financial need.

The Clem and Marg Hausman Scholarship, while available to any entering freshman with financial need, gives priority to graduates of East and South High Schools.

Additionally, around 15 other scholarships offered through the Foundation require recipients to be Pueblo residents or graduates of Pueblo high schools.

CSU-Pueblo also offers a handful of merit scholarships separately from the Foundation.

These scholarships have four separate levels that increase in award amount as factors such as high school GPA, class rank and ACT or SAT scores improve.

In fall 2015, 119 students from Pueblo received a merit scholarship, according to university statistics. During the previous year, 121 Pueblo students received one.

“I think it’s (using scholarships to keep Pueblo students in town) very effective while they’re still in college,” Potter said.

He also said keeping students in Pueblo isn’t necessarily an intention of the CSU-Pueblo Foundation, since its job is to facilitate the donation process for private donors. Instead, he said, the Pueblo residency requirements reflect the intentions of the donors.

“There are a lot of people in Pueblo who are passionate and we’re making sure we fulfill their scholarship wishes,” he said.

But regardless of donor intentions, keeping students in town after they graduate isn’t a guarantee.

“I’ve seen students who want to stay here in town and they don’t want to leave home but sometimes they end up leaving because of the job market,” Potter said.

In October, PULP’s Kara Mason reported that even though Colorado is attracting millennials ages 20 to 30, the opposite trend is happening in Pueblo– people ages 20 to 26 are moving out of town.

For CSU-Pueblo, keeping those students in town, even for those few years, is beneficial.

Of the 870 students who graduated from Pueblo high schools and went on to college in 2013, 249 ended up at CSU-Pueblo.

“I’ve seen students who want to stay here in town and they don’t want to leave home but sometimes they end up leaving because of the job market.” – Nick Potter

With 29 percent of that graduating class, the school ended up with a higher concentration of Pueblo students than any other single college in Colorado.

Still, 71 percent of those 2013 Pueblo graduates went away to other universities.

A large portion of CSU-Pueblo’s population comprises of students from around Pueblo. During the 2011-2012 school year, for example, 2,308 of the school’s 4,868 students were from Pueblo, according to the university fact book from that year.

Since much of CSU-Pueblo’s population depends on residents, keeping Pueblo students in Pueblo would draw on a major recent priority of the university: to increase enrollment numbers.

And the administration of CSU-Pueblo, in the past couple of years, has been working to do that. After a decline in enrollment, the university had to cut $3.3 million from its budget in 2013. In the end, 22 mostly unfilled staff positions were cut.

So, keeping Pueblo students in town for college helps replenish CSU-Pueblo’s largest concentration of students, and scholarships may be contributing to that effort.

“The scholarships are so that we don’t lose students to UNC or Fort Collins,” Potter said.

He also said, through the years, he’s noted that some high-achieving scholarship recipients do end up staying in Pueblo after becoming more involved in the community.

“While our job market is not really strong, they make these connections in the community,” Potter said.

Mize said she’s glad she decided to attend CSU-Pueblo, though she’s not sure where she’ll end up after graduating.

“I would love to get out and explore what the rest of the world has to offer,” she said, “but Pueblo will always be my home and it would be wonderful to do something that will boost our local economy and to be someone who can continually impact her community in a positive way.”

Shortly after entering CSU-Pueblo, she decided to enroll the university’s 3+2 Program, which will allow her to complete a Master of Business Administration at the same time she receives her bachelor’s.

When she graduates, Mize will have spent five more years in Pueblo than she thought she would in 2013.

“It has been a much greater experience than what I had originally planned for,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine going elsewhere.”

Editor’s note: Sara Knuth is a recipient of the Kane Family Foundation Scholarship at CSU-Pueblo.

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