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Going to college or technical school remains a sound investment for Coloradans

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Going to college or technical school remains a sound investment for Coloradans
Annual return on investment report helps students and families better access the value of earning a degree or certificate


DENVER, CO – Nov. 18, 2022: Today the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE), released its annual Return on Investment Report, which helps students and families better access the value of earning a degree or certificate. The report, now in its fourth iteration, continues to show that completion of postsecondary education yields significant benefits for individuals and families. These benefits become even more important in times of economic hardship and recovery as completion of more education leads to higher workforce participation rates and lower unemployment.
The report helps students make more informed choices by providing data about time and credits to completion, average cost and debt for completion, and wage data. These metrics can also help the state achieve its goals around affordability and cost containment. The report also provides an analysis of the state’s efforts to expand opportunities for learners in career pathways that weave education and training credentials with Colorado’s workforce, create educational avenues for lifelong learning, and enable more Coloradans to earn while they learn.
Coloradans who’ve completed a bachelor’s degree or higher had an unemployment rate of 3.5%, while Coloradans with less than a high school diploma had an unemployment rate more than two times higher, at 8.3%. This is one indication that the return on investment for students who complete postsecondary education remains strong – an outcome reflected not only by increases in workforce participation levels but additionally by higher lifetime earning potential, annual wages, and arguably invaluable life experiences.
“Obtaining a postsecondary degree or credential continues to provide value in Colorado’s strong economy,” said Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of CDHE. “Learners need more information about how the choices they make in postsecondary education will affect them for the rest of their lives, including their earnings. This report will help to provide this information at a time in which a postsecondary degree or credential is more important than ever.”
Key findings

  • In terms of annual earnings, those with a bachelor’s degree far exceed those with only a high school degree or equivalent, with an average salary gap of $20,727 per year. Graduate or professional degrees are associated with the highest average annual wage at $71,561, earning $36,418 more per year on average, relative to those with a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • In Colorado, almost all students whose family income is less than $48,000 and who apply for aid receive some type of financial aid from the federal government, the state, or the institution.
  • Debt among Colorado residents graduating from the state’s public institutions continues to be on a steady downward trend since 2014. In 2021, 55% of resident students graduated with no loan debt at all.
  • 58% of employers state that apprenticeship programs take priority when screening applications and 46% of employers give priority to applicants with non-degree credentials.

Higher education systems support their respective communities by employing thousands of workers, investing, educating, and training the current workforce, and launching hundreds of new start-up companies across the nation. At a global level, these systems become major exporters of research and innovation to the world. At a statewide level, they attract and foster workforce talent in Colorado.
Other findings

  • An estimated one in 25 workers in Colorado have a degree from the Colorado State University System.
  • Out of approximately 95,000 national alumni across the U.S., nearly 80% of Metropolitan State University of Denver students advanced their attainment while participating in the workforce and remained in Colorado after completion.
  • Last year, the Colorado Community College System – the largest higher education system in the state – helped drive Colorado’s labor force participation rate to pre-pandemic levels by providing more than 450 customized training opportunities for Coloradans to upskill and reskill.
  • Last year alone, the CU System fueled nearly 58,000 jobs in Colorado. Most of these occupations are located within the Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs areas.

About the report
To inform lawmakers, taxpayers, and students on the value of postsecondary education in Colorado, H.B. 18-1226 directed 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 price, debt, choice, and value affect a student’s overall trajectory.
The report was submitted to the Senate and House Education Committees of the Colorado Legislature, 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 strategic plan Colorado Rises.