DENVER — Obtaining a certificate, associates, or bachelor’s degree is a wise investment for Coloradans wanting to earn a higher income, according to a report released today by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE).
Data in the report show that the number of students taking out loans and student loan debt totals are declining for most Colorado students. That, coupled with increased institutional, state and federal financial aid, puts college in reach for the families who benefit most from a postsecondary education. The report outlines the crucial importance of higher education and making college affordable and is broken down into four key pillars: Intentional Pathways, Affordability for All, the Equity Imperative, and Value.
This year’s report considers the landscape of the Colorado economy and workforce amidst a global pandemic, and the impact COVID-19 will have on the demand for qualified and skilled Coloradans to enter the workforce. It also emphasizes the choices individual students can make to reduce costs and maximize the long-term value of their degree.
In some instances, earning a two-year degree such as an Associate of Applied Science or a oneyear certificate can yield a greater return than a four-year education. Governor Jared Polis has cited this report as useful data that propels the state to prioritize making college affordable. Gov. Polis said, “The inaugural report helped us develop ‘The Roadmap to Containing College Costs and Making College Affordable’ which sets a bold vision for the future of higher education in our state. We’re holding ourselves accountable as we look to reduce costs and increase the value of higher education.”
Many short-term certificates or two-year degrees yield higher wages, especially in the short term, and they fill important in-demand Colorado jobs. The report shows projected earnings by credential type and academic field, and also provides important information on cost and debt to allow students to maximize the value of higher education.
“Our state, department and colleges and universities are working hard to reduce costs for our students,” said Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of CDHE. “By executing the short, medium and long-term action steps contained in the Roadmap, we’re on the path to making Colorado the best state for college success in the country.”
Data show that earning concurrent enrollment, and the use of Prior Learning Assessments to get credit for previous academic, military or work experience can reduce time-to-degree and allow students to enter the workforce sooner--essentially earning higher wages and seeing a return on investment faster. One notable pattern is the impact of a bachelor’s degree on postgraduation yearone and year-five incomes.
In this analysis, which accounts for several demographic characteristics, the Department found that in the first year after graduation, holders of an associate of science, on average, earn more than bachelor’s-degree holders, who, in turn, earn more than certificate holders. Affordability is a key component of increasing attainment. The state’s recent investments in higher education have helped tuition remain steady at its two-year colleges and to grow by less than two percent at its four-year institutions last year.
Notably, the number of undergraduate students who take out loans and the amount of debt they incur is declining. However, considering the current pandemic recession and resulting reduction in state funding, higher education institutions will need to contain costs and prioritize affordability to ensure that more Coloradans attain the postsecondary degree they need to help fuel Colorado’s post-recession economy. And Colorado’s institutions are responding.
In fact, this report shows that after including the average financial aid package, students with a family income of less than $75,000 attend a two-year school tuition-free or with tuition and fees just over $100. Simultaneously, the new Bridge to Bachelor’s Degree Program launched this year then allows students that attend a two-year community college in Colorado to transfer seamlessly to a participating four-year institution.
Improving access and reducing costs of education and training is especially urgent for Colorado’s economy, which boasts some of the most advanced workforce needs in the country. To help defray the costs, in 2018-19 students received $591.6 million in grant aid, designed to lower the cost of college. $257.5 million came from the federal government, $130 million was provided by the state and $166.9 million was provided by the colleges and technical schools themselves. For the first time, the report explores the role of higher education in contributing to Colorado’s economy and the state’s top jobs.
In 2019, private-sector colleges, universities and professional schools provided 17,654 full- and part-time jobs in Colorado. About 75 percent of all Colorado jobs and 97 percent of top ones—those that pay a living wage and have high growth rates—require a postsecondary credential. To help meet these industry demands, CDHE aims to reach 66 percent educational attainment by 2025, up from 57.6 percent currently.
Dr. Paccione continued, “The impacts of coronavirus to the Colorado economy and workforce are only now beginning to surface. College graduates serve Colorado communities through critical research, essential care, and innovations to technology. It is imperative during our recovery that residents contribute to the economy by entering the workforce skilled and with a credential.”
About the report To inform lawmakers, taxpayers and students on the value of postsecondary education in Colorado,H.B. 18-1226directed CDHE to publish an annual return on investment report. The report provides statewide and credential-level median earnings for certificate, associate and bachelor’s degree graduates.
In addition to wage data, the report explores how tuition prices, debt, choice and value affect a student’s overall trajectory. The report was submitted to the Education Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, pursuant to 23-1-135 C.R.S.
About the Colorado Department of Higher Education
Working with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, we support students, advocate and develop policies to maximize higher education opportunities for all. The Department believes every Coloradan should have an education beyond high school to pursue their dreams and improve our communities. Read the CDHE master plan Colorado Rises.