Care Forward Colorado to offer free education to aspiring healthcare workers

Program covers student tuition, fees and course materials in wide range of medical professions

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Gov. Jared Polis announced the Care Forward Colorado program Aug. 24, an initiative that makes community college and technical programs free for aspiring healthcare professionals across the state. 

During the press conference, Polis was joined by Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, administrators from the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), students who will benefit from the program and community members from Arapahoe Community College (ACC).

The initiative stems from bipartisan legislation signed in May, co-sponsored by state Senators Sonya Jaquez Lewis and Bob Rankin, along with State Rep. Kyle Mullica, in the form of Senate Bill 226. The bill was implemented to channel more funding to the development of healthcare education to guide Coloradans towards in-demand and well-paying healthcare careers.

“(These jobs) pay good, and often, students have opportunities to move into management in these different fields,” Polis said. ”We will only increase our healthcare needs as our population grows older, and we want to make sure we have the caregivers and people with the right training to take care of everybody.”

Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, believes the program will sufficiently match the demand for such careers.

“Last I checked, there were like 27,000 openings for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) in the state,” said Paccione, who was appointed to her position by Polis. “So we’re encouraging students to get started with these entry-level positions and to take advantage to earn a credential in their (chosen) healthcare profession for free."

CCCS Chancellor Joe Garcia said such a program is “unprecedented” in Colorado and will cover all of students’ costs, not just their tuition, including fees and course materials.

“It provides individuals pathways to dignified, living wage careers,” Garcia said. “That’s what will move Colorado forward.”

Under the Care Forward Colorado program, students can pursue careers as a CNA, emergency room technician, phlebotomy technician, medical assistant and dental assistant.

Students who enroll in these and related programs at community colleges under the CCCS umbrella — including ACC, Community College of Denver and Front Range Community College — will be reimbursed for their expenses through 2024. Non-traditional students, including those who are in their mid-careers or who are looking to change fields entirely to healthcare, are also eligible.

George Villalobos, an ACC student finishing his emergency medical technician certificate, said without the program he would be “freaking out” about how to cover the cost of his education.

“I, like so many of my peers, want to give back to my community as a healthcare worker," Villalobos said. “I was beyond thrilled to learn that my training costs would be covered through the Care Forward Colorado program. It makes a high-quality training, like the one I’m receiving at ACC, accessible to everyone.”

Care Forward Colorado is one of the 100 ways the Polis administration has said it has aimed to save Coloradans money, a target introduced during Polis' 2022 State of the State Address in June.

Jared Polis, healthcare, education, Arapahoe Community College, Littleton, higher education, Care Forward Colorado

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