Phil DiStefano


The hard work by thousands of Colorado high school seniors who have applied to college is paying off. Last month, they decided where they will attend college this fall.

There are several factors to consider when choosing a college that is the right fit. For most people, price is key.

Twenty years ago, paying for college was easier. A 2018 report from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education reminds us that in 2000 the state paid 68% of the cost of a student’s public education. Today that has flipped with students and families covering 66% of the cost.

Colorado ranks among the lowest states in the nation for its financial support of students’ education at public universities. When state funding declines, state colleges rely on tuition to stay in business, placing a greater financial burden on Colorado’s families. Regardless, state universities are taking innovative steps to keep costs down so they can remain accessible to Coloradans.

This year, with additional funding from the state, Colorado public colleges and universities have committed to a zero percent tuition increase for incoming resident freshmen and transfer students next fall. College and university tuition in the U.S. on average rises 5% a year.

CU Boulder has gone further. Tuition rates will not increase for 2019 incoming state students for four years thanks to the undergraduate resident tuition guarantee. Our four-year tuition guarantee was implemented in 2016. The goal is to help families plan and budget and be shielded from unexpected annual tuition increases.

CU Boulder and other state universities have implemented a number of other important steps to reduce the cost of education and to minimize student debt. Beginning last fall, our campus eliminated course and program fees, saving students and their families a combined $8.4 million annually.

In addition, resident students take courses for free after 12 credit hours in a semester. The typical college student takes 15 credit hours per semester but some as much as 18 or 20.

With these measures, CU Boulder students are paying less for their education today than they did three years ago. The Boulder campus reduced the cost of attendance in 2018-19 from the prior year by an average of $700 per student.

More than half of Colorado residents graduating with a bachelor’s degree from our campus do so without debt. Of those who do, the average debt of $24,251 is below the Colorado average of $26,530 and under the national average of $30,100.

College access and affordability is a three-pronged effort: Controlling our costs to keep sticker prices low; investing in merit scholarships to attract the best and brightest students and investing in more need-based financial aid to ensure low-income students have an opportunity to attain a degree. Not only do Colorado families benefit, so does Colorado.

Consider that 41 recruiters employed by out-of-state colleges work in Colorado to recruit our state’s top students to their states. These students are likely to embark on careers, provide a skilled workforce and contribute to the economy in their new home states. Our campus loses more than 2,000 top-qualified high school students a year to colleges and universities in other states because they can secure better financial aid packages.

Colorado’s economy will require that 74% of jobs will need post-secondary education by next year, according to the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute. If we cannot retain our best talent in Colorado, the state is forced to recruit its workforce rather than growing it. That in turn puts additional costs on businesses in our state.

How can we keep Colorado’s brightest students at home? Providing a quality education, making it affordable and providing scholarships and financial aid.

CU Boulder is providing more financial aid and serving more Colorado students today than at any time in its history. More than 6,000 students are receiving merit or need-based scholarships — more than one-third of our Colorado students. CU as a system offers more campus-funded financial aid to Coloradans than the state of Colorado offers to all its higher education institutions combined.

This three-pronged approach — sticker price, need- and merit-based financial aid — can work. The retention rate for Colorado freshmen on the Boulder campus has increased from 86.5% in the fall of 2012 to more than 90% in the fall of 2017. This improves graduation rates and in turn reduces cost and loan burden for Colorado residents.

Investing in a college degree is more like investing in a house than a car. It appreciates and it pays lifelong dividends. A bachelor’s degree holder on average will earn an additional $1.4 million over a career than a high school graduate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey of 2017. Ninety-three percent of CU Boulder graduates are employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation.

For those who dream of college, the dream is possible in Colorado.

Philip P. DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder. He will be joined by CU football coach Mel Tucker and athletic director Rick George for a lunchtime event June 19 at the Pinery at The Hill. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP details at

Philip P. DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado-Boulder. He will be joined by CU football coach Mel Tucker and athletic director Rick George for a lunch time speaking event June 19 at the Pinery at The Hill. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP details at

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