Co-ops Support Youth with College Scholarships

By L.J. Hansen

More than 300 current college students are benefiting this school year from more than a quarter of a million dollars in scholarships awarded by Colorado’s electric co-ops.

With the increasing costs of higher education students often need financial assistance to pay for college or trade school, and Colorado’s 22 electric distribution cooperatives are helping. Last spring, collectively, they awarded $384,000 in scholarships. Scholarships ranged from $500 to enough to pay for four years.

Grand Valley Power in Grand Junction, Morgan County Rural Electric Association in Fort Morgan, San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative in Monte Vista, Sangre de Cristo Electric Association in Buena Vista and Y-W Electric Association in Akron all provided scholarships for future lineworkers. Empire Electric Association in Cortez, which also has a lineworker scholarship, provided funds for older members returning to college. Most of the rest of the scholarships went to high school seniors embarking on their postgraduate education, whether it was at a four-year institution or a vocational or technical school.

Power suppliers Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, headquartered in Westminster, and Basin Electric Power Cooperative, headquartered in Bismarck, North Dakota, provided some of the funds used for these scholarships. However, many of the funds came from each local cooperative’s unclaimed capital credits. When a nonprofit entity such as a co-op receives more revenue than it has expenses, it ends the year with a margin. At Colorado’s electric co-ops, those margins are allocated to members based on their purchases from the co-op, and after a time paid back to the members. If the member moves and the co-op cannot find the member, the capital credits become unclaimed capital credits and can be used for scholarships and other designated programs.

These scholarships are only one way coops support their local youth. For instance, one co-op helps support the John McConnell Math and Science Center in Grand Junction. Others provide farm safety lessons to all ages of schoolchildren. Another co-op sponsors several school groups and attends local job fairs. With the support of unclaimed capital credits, fundraisers and enthusiasm, Colorado’s electric cooperatives can nurture the interests of the next generation of scholars through these programs.

Cooperatives also support students at the Leadership Camp, located near Steamboat Springs, and on the Washington, D.C., Youth Tour. To help pay for this, the nonprofit Colorado Electric Educational Institute applies for grants and organizes fundraisers to lower the overall cost to the co-ops, which pay the final price. This year, the co-ops sent 34 students to the camp and 33 on the tour of Washington, D.C.

Applications are now open for Leadership Camp and Youth Tour, and scholarship applications for 2018 either are open or will open soon. Students are encouraged to apply for these co-op sponsored scholarships, Leadership Camp and the Washington, D.C., Youth Tour.

Thousands of young people have benefited from the co-ops’ generosity as the co-ops have supported the Youth Tour for more than 25 years, Leadership Camp for more than 35 years and scholarships for several thousand students through the years. The support continues into 2018.

L.J. Hansen is an intern at Colorado Country Life writing about electric co-op programs.