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The Follow Up: Is a college degree worth as much as it used to be?

Fewer Colorado high school students going to college post-pandemic
college enrollment
Posted at 11:35 AM, May 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-19 13:35:12-04

As Colorado high school graduates get ready to throw their caps into the air, many don’t have a set plan to continue their education.

A new report from the Colorado Department of Higher Education found the rate of high school graduates pursuing a post-secondary credential in the year after college fell to 49.9% in 2019. That was down from 50.5% in 2020, and down from 56.3% in 2019.

Colorado’s Executive Director of Higher Education Dr. Angie Paccione said the numbers are concerning, because most jobs require a credential beyond high school.

“We want every student to maximize their earning potential,” Paccione said.

Fewer Colorado high school grads attending college

Paccione said she believes the pandemic and a shifting job market are factors that could be leading fewer students to pursue college. Jobs that don’t require a degree have raised hourly pay, and many students worry about being saddled with student loan debt. But Paccione said there’s a misconception about college affordability.

“If we just looked at undergraduate debt in Colorado, it's roughly $25,000. And half the students who go to college in Colorado leave with no debt,” Paccione said.

In March, Colorado State University President Amy Parsons said that CSU graduates have low default rates on debt because most end up in well-paying jobs. Viewers asked Denver7 to follow up on that claim, especially as the cost of living in Colorado rises.

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Colorado School of Mines student Connor Larsen is graduating this month with a degree in mechanical engineering, and about $8,500 of debt. He landed a job paying more than $70,000 a year. But he struggled to find an affordable place to live near his job in Boulder.

“There was a room in a house that was being rented out, and that was like $1,700 a month,” Larsen said.

He was able to find an apartment in Westminster, but Larsen said that’s not the case for many college graduates.

“It’s so common for people, when they get out of college, to still live with two or three roommates,” he said.

Paccione acknowledged the need for colleges to make sure students are getting a good return on their investment but said students who don’t pursue any credentials beyond high school are limiting their options.

“Seventy-five percent of all Colorado jobs require a credential beyond high school, and 94% of top jobs require a credential beyond high school,” she said.


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