As the 8th most expensive state to live in the nation,i earning a livable wage in Colorado increasingly requires some form of postsecondary education.

  • Findings from a 2018 study from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that Colorado ranked 3rd in the nation in workforce needs, with 74% of all jobs requiring postsecondary education.ii
  • The most recent Colorado Talent Pipeline report indicates that a majority of Tier 1 jobs, that pay a livable wage for a family of three, require a bachelor’s degree or higher.iii

Yet despite this growing need for education credentials beyond high school, the costs for Colorado residents to obtain a degree at a university or college within the state is only getting more expensive, as tuition and fees have far outpaced inflation and most other consumer items. If this trend continues, it will only put further pressure on the existing dynamic, where only 64% of Colorado K-12 graduates go on to obtain some postsecondary credential.

  • Since 2002, tuition and fees for in-state students has grown over 240%.
  • Inflation has grown just over 40%.

Prices in Colorado Over the Past Two Decades

Costs have not risen equally across all of Colorado’s institutions of higher education.

    • Since 1998, both Colorado Mesa University and The University of Colorado Boulder have seen resident tuition and fees increase over 300%. UC Denver and Colorado Mountain College have seen tuition and fees grow by less than half of that, under 150%, yet still much faster than inflation.

Why has the cost of higher education for Colorado residents increased so dramatically?

Growing tuition and fees for Colorado residents reflect two larger trends; first, a declining share of general fund contributions, and second, a growth in overall costs associated with higher education.

      • In FY19 alone, there was about a $400Miv gap in general fund contributions towards resident student tuition and fees, if the general fund (state support) would have just kept pace with inflation since 2001.
      • However, tuition and fees related to higher education have outpaced inflation growth, therefore, an additional $416Miv would have been needed annually for the general fund to have kept pace with student costs beyond inflation growth since 2001.

While an overall increase in the price of higher education is in-line with national trends, expenditures related to things like administrative costs and capital improvements have increased significantly for most Colorado institutions. For example, CU Boulder has seen administrative costs grow by over $2,200 per student since 2010. CSU Global has bucked this trend and seen their administrative costs fall by $800 since 2013.

i https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/opportunity/affordability
ii https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/recovery-job-growth-and-education-requirements-through-2020/#resources
iii https://cwdc.colorado.gov/colorado-talent-pipeline-report
iv Methodology for calculations at www.commonsenseinstituteco.org/price-of-higher-education-co/

Method of Estimating Increases in General Fund Appropriations

The estimates of how much additional general fund revenue would need to be appropriated in FY19 to higher education in order to have kept pace with inflation or kept pace with overall costs since 2001 were calculated using several underlying sources.

Special thanks to Amanda Bickel with the Colorado Joint Budget Committee for insights and feedback on estimation process.

Step 1 – Estimate total tuition and fees per student – Sum together General Fund appropriations to the 10 state governing boards with resident and non-resident tuition, then add reported fees appropriated to 10 governing boards, then divide by total student FTE.

Step 2 – Estimate total cost for resident students – Multiply total tuition and fees per student by the total resident FTE number.

Step 3 – Estimate state contributions to resident student costs – Sum the General Fund appropriations to each of the 10 governing boards and 95% of appropriations to student financial aid. 95% was used to approximate nearly all of state financial aid dollars being used to support resident students.

Step 4 – Estimate FY01 state contribution as a share of total costs – A 2018 report from CDHE estimated the state covered 68% of student tuition and fees in FY01.i Our estimates for FY02 using Steps 1-3 and summary data on fees to the 10 governing boards from tables available in the FY02 Appropriations Report, not included in the FY 2001 Appropriations Report, indicated the state covered 64% of total student costs. Therefore, a more conservative figure of 65% as the FY01 starting point and target for FY19 was assumed.

Step 5 – Estimate total General Fund appropriation to CO resident’s tuition and fees if grown at rate of inflation since 2001 – Divide General Fund appropriation to 10 governing boards by resident FTE for FY01. Then inflate to FY19 using Denver MSA Consumer Price Index. Then multiply inflated per student estimate by total resident FTE in FY19.

Step 6 – Estimate difference between actual FY19 spending and estimated spending if kept pace with inflation since FY01– Subtract actual General Fund appropriations from estimate of General Fund from Step 5.

Step 7 – Estimate difference between actual FY19 spending and estimated Fy19 spending if state funded 65% of student costs – Subtract actual FY19 General Fund appropriations from estimate of 65% of FY19 resident student tuition and fees.

i https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED586445.pdf