Dear Alumni and Friends,
A college education can be expensive. But there is no doubt that the cost is worth the investment.
Because that’s what it is, an investment in a person’s future, as well as in our society. The return on that investment is substantial – people with college degrees earn more, studies show they are healthier and happier, they engage in their communities and civic life at much greater rates. And our society wins as well, with a highly skilled workforce, economic impact, vibrant communities and innovation that improves lives, saves lives and makes our state and nation better places.
Still, it’s a common perception that a college education costs too much. Yet I would suggest that it’s not as costly as people believe. A couple of car analogies are illustrative. Many people look at paying for college like buying a new car – they pay a significant sum, drive the car off the lot and it immediately begins depreciating and eventually reaches the end of its useful life. I believe a more appropriate comparison is a mortgage on a house. The investment provides a comfortable life over many years and results in a valuable asset.
Also like a new car, there is a sticker price and an actual price. One of our priorities has been to increase institutional financial aid, which reduces that sticker price. We’ve been quite successful, going from $88 million in internally generated financial aid in 2008 to just over $202 million today. That allows us to keep the price down for many students across the family income spectrum, as well as to increase access to a CU education to qualified Colorado students.
In the past five years, the change in the amount students and their families pay for a CU education relative to inflation may surprise you. In fact, over that five-year period, average out-of-pocket costs have actually declined between 3 and 12 percent at CU Boulder and have gone up by no more than 5 percent at our Denver and Colorado Springs campuses.
Importantly, the average student in the middle to low household income brackets has all of their tuition covered at CU Boulder and a large portion of it at Denver and Colorado Springs. We have been able to keep these costs in check by increasing need-based aid, instituting efficiencies and keeping tuition increase around the rate of inflation or less.
We are at work on a calculator that will allow students to gauge a variety of factors – including family income, transfer credits and work status – to determine what their CU education will cost. You will read about it in an upcoming issue of this newsletter.
There is also some consternation about student loans. We agree that nobody wants graduates to have debt, but the reality at CU is that just over half of our students take out loans and they average $27,042 (below the national average). Our default rates are well below half the national average, showing our students get jobs. And our research shows the average loan payment across income levels is manageable. There will always be outliers, but the broad statistics show that the average student loan for a CU graduate is manageable and worth it.
We also recognize the obligation to operate efficiently to keep costs down. It has been a continual focus over the past decade and has gotten to the point where we are realizing between $30 million to $40 million annually in new efficiencies. We've also secured more than 100 pieces of legislation at the Colorado General Assembly over the past decade that allows us to institute better business practices, generate more revenue and operate more efficiently.
Students also have a role in keeping costs down. Those who come to CU with credits are considerably ahead of the game. Whether through high school concurrent enrollment, advanced placement classes, International Baccalaureate or community college transfer credits, students can go a long way toward helping themselves if they arrive at CU with transfer credits.
The bottom line is that a CU education is attainable. Some people look at a college education as too costly or out of reach. I would urge them to look at it closer to see what it really costs, to do the things they can do to help themselves, and to consider the substantial return on the investment. Yes, it can still be costly. But it's certainly worth the investment.
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