The report suggests that prospective students and their families have more control than they think in maximizing return and minimizing cost. Having access to wage data grouped to the type of institution and programs, students can project more accurately how much they can earn annually one year, five years, and 10 years after they graduate.
To minimize costs, students can take advantage of the collective efforts by the state and higher education institutions to make college affordable. Students can start reducing costs years before starting college by participating in concurrent enrollment programs and during college by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), Colorado Application for State Financial Aid (CASFA), and by applying for work-study programs and scholarships.
“Our state, department and colleges and universities are working hard to reduce costs for our students,” said Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of CDHE. “In fact, our collective efforts are showing positive results. Since the Roadmap’s inception, the percentage of graduates with debt and the amount of debt students carry have decreased. When students make data-informed decisions they elevate their chances of attaining a high financial return on investment.”
Colorado’s higher education system is contributing to equity in wage outcomes. When grouping wage data based on gender or race/ethnicity— males and females or White and African American/Black graduates who surpassed the state’s minimum wage threshold, have similar wages, and continue to see increases. However, this report acknowledges that 10-30% of these graduates are still experiencing inequity in wage and thus calls for long-term, strategic teamwork by the state, higher education institutions, businesses, and students.
Other key findings
- Those with higher education typically participate in the labor force at a higher rate, have lower rates of unemployment, and have a higher annual wage compared to those without a postsecondary credential.
- Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher had the lowest unemployment rates during the peak of the Great Recession in 2010 and during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, showing an inverse correlation between education and unemployment.
- As education increases, mean annual wage increases. Those with a bachelor’s degree have the highest average annual wage at $84,202 while those with less than a high school diploma earn $48,951 on average, a gap of $35,251.
- Of all the Top Jobs, 62.6% require a credential past high school.
- Students investing in programs that foster soft skills, namely oral/written communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, teamwork, and real-world application of academic knowledge, generate both public and private good
- Because the state and its institutions are committed to affordability for in-state students, many
students—particularly those from low-income families—pay little, if no tuition, and end up with
a significantly lower net price overall.
- Debt among Colorado residents graduating from the state’s public institutions continues to be on a steady downward trend since 2014.
Under 10% of bachelor’s degree graduates and less than 1% of community college students acquired more than $40,000 in debt after graduating from a Colorado public institution.
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 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 strategic plan Colorado Rises .