Feb 9, 2017

An expert in policy advocacy and coalition building, Chaer has dedicated her career to helping people meet their basic needs and expanding economic opportunity. She serves on the executive committee of the All Families Deserve a Chance (AFDC) coalition. Staff page ›

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Help students educate themselves about private occupational schools

by | Feb 9, 2017

Under the best circumstances, private occupational schools offer students a chance to update their skills for today’s competitive job market. For those who struggle to pay their bills, these schools potentially offer better job opportunities, a new career ladder to a higher income and an improved quality of life. Yet, many people who enroll in private occupational schools find that they don’t always deliver upon the promises advertised on late-night TV.

A private occupational school is a privately owned and operated post-secondary school that charges tuition to teach vocational or occupational skills. There are well over 300 such schools in Colorado approved to provide training in career fields as diverse as computer technology, nursing, real estate, cosmetology, massage therapy and trucking.

For-profit occupational schools are an important part of the post-secondary education landscape in Colorado. The share of jobs that only require a high school diploma has been shrinking, while jobs requiring some additional training are on the rise. By 2020, the Department of Higher Education projects that 74 percent of all jobs in Colorado will require some level of post-secondary training.

However, these institutions have faced increased scrutiny for a number of reasons. Tuition at private occupational schools is typically substantially higher compared to community colleges. Furthermore, students who attend these schools are less likely to find gainful employment and often leave school with more debt.

Nationally, the surge in student loan defaults in the last decade was largely concentrated among relatively older, low-income students who attended for-profit colleges. Last year, ITT, a large, for-profit technical school with facilities in Colorado, shuttered after the U.S. Department of Education issued an order forbidding the school from enrolling new students who depend on federal financial aid – the main source of ITT’s revenue. The restriction was issued in response to concerns about ITT’s recruitment and financial practices.

Given this context, it’s important that these schools make information available so that prospective students can make informed decisions about what types of training to pursue and what programs will prepare them for gainful employment.

In 2015, CCLP sought to amend the reauthorization act of the Division of Private Occupational Schools (DPOS) to strengthen the consumer information and protection role of the division in overseeing private schools. Although the amendment was unsuccessful, CCLP later met with the Division of Private Occupational Schools seeking to strengthen the disclosure of consumer information such as graduation and job placement rates.

CCLP and the Colorado Skills2Compete Coalition explored possible remedies to enhance transparency of these institutions for the 2017 legislative session. One result of our work, Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, would require private occupational schools to provide information about educational outcomes (such as completion rates, total costs, estimated debt load and average starting salaries), before students sign a contract. The legislation also calls for the state to include cost and outcome information on an existing website to help students make informed decisions when investing in a secondary education.

As we all know, education is key to economic self-sufficiency. Colorado students have many choices for postsecondary education and training. Among these choices, prospective students have a tremendous amount of comparative and easily accessible information on costs and outcomes for public two and four year schools and eligible training providers under the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act. A small percentage of the more than 300 private occupational schools in the state are featured on websites students use to compare information on costs and outcomes. SB 118 attempts to make the information readily available to consumers who are prepared to invest time and money for a better future.

SB 118 would make it easier for prospective students to get the information they need and to spend their education dollars wisely.

– Chaer Robert

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To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.


Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.


Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.


Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.