Cost of College in Colorado

If one digs deeply enough, there are some interesting data out there that are quite telling with respect to the true cost of college in Colorado. By carefully comparing precisely the same data points, it is possible to make a more meaningful comparison than one can get from the confusing sets of statistics thrown at families in many financial aid information sessions during campus visits.

For the following I went on the College Board website, and looked at the published information associated with cost and financial aid for several Colorado institutions. In particular, I chose to examine tuition, room and board; average percentage of need met; average amount of need-based scholarships and grants (assistance that doesn’t require repayment later); and average indebtedness at graduation.  Here is what I found for several key institutions for 2011:


  • TRB = $20,430
  • % need met = 90%
  • S&G = $7393
  • Grad debt = $22,683


  • TRB = $17,214
  • % need met = 73%
  • S&G = $10,114
  • Grad debt = $19,523

CO Mesa U

  • TRB = $15,205
  • % need met = 59%
  • S&G = $4460
  • Grad debt = NR


  • TRB = $16,373
  • % need met = 61%
  • S&G = $2097
  • Grad debt = NR

Ft Lewis

  • TRB = $13,602
  • % need met = 67%
  • S&G = $3884
  • Grad debt = $18,780

Colorado College

  • TRB = $50,450
  • % need met = NR
  • S&G = NR
  • Grad debt = NR

University of Denver

  • TRB = $48,273
  • % need met = 82%
  • S&G = $22,695
  • Grad debt = NR

Regis University

  • TRB = $31,188
  • % need met = 79%
  • S&G = $20,392
  • Grad debt = NR


One general observation is that there are some real educational bargains available in the state. The winner among the publics for percent of need met was CU-Boulder at 90%. The winner among the privates for the same measure was DU at 82%. Given the far higher cost of attendance at DU, however, this outcome translates into many fewer actual dollars.

I was impressed with the schools that disclosed everything, so hats off to CU, CSU and Ft. Lewis, and a big raspberry for CC, our most expensive institution, which discloses nothing.  Draw your own conclusions as to what might be revealed if they did share their info. I thought CSU looked darn good when their average need-based scholarship and grant amount was deducted from the tuition, room and board charges: $7100, the best outcome among all the schools. Regis looked darn good from this measure as well, coming out at $10,796, far better than DU at $25,578.

Of course this tells us nothing about what might be offered to the most desirable students by way of non-need-based offers; this can be potentially significant, but also highly variable.  So do your homework, and carefully scrutinize those financial aid award letters!

Retention and Graduation Rates: What Do They Reveal?

Increasingly savvy parents and the occasional savvy student may have caught on to the wisdom of digging beneath the sea of happy faces, success stories and attractive photos featured in admissions brochures and college websites in search of valid measures that can meaningfully be used to compare one school to the next. Two sets of interesting statistics are freshman retention rates and four-or six-year graduation rates, which every school is mandated to report. Along with other outcome measures, these numbers are included in the methodology used by U.S. News and World Report to determine their evaluation of a school.

First of all, why do these numbers loom so large in a school’s ranking, and why are they reported as they are? It is easy to understand the importance of graduation rates. With less than half of all college-bound students in the U.S. ever graduating, this outcome should tell us something about the degree of support provided by a given college to its students to help them make progress and complete a course of study. However, given the wide gulf between types of colleges and the degree of selectivity they employ, it also tells us something about the challenges and risks faced by less-advantaged students at some schools. Therefore these numbers should be considered in light of the selectivity of the school in question. Personally, I have been disappointed with the shift away from reporting four-year rates to six-year rates, and can only assume that this represents acquiescence to a new, more dismal national norm.

What does it mean that the greatest focus in retention (re-enrolling from one year to the next) stresses freshman retention? This is because at most colleges the greatest loss of students occurs within the first year of enrollment. Many of the students who are lost in their first year of study never re-enroll, or repeat the pattern of enrolling and dropping out at more than one college. Therefore, freshman retention is critical, both for institutions, and for students themselves.

So, how do we meaningfully compare a college like the University of Denver, with an 87% freshman student retention, with Colorado State University, with its 83% rate, or the University of Colorado with its 84% freshman retention? And does it suggest that Metropolitan State College of Denver, often called Colorado’s College of Opportunity, is a colossal failure with its 67% retention rate and 21% graduation rate? (BTW, just for the sake of comparison, at most Ivy League colleges like Harvard, freshman retention sits right around 99%.) The numbers matter, but they must be interpreted in the context of the school’s mission and selectivity.  Metro State enrolls large numbers of first generation, low income, minority and adult students, and this exerts an effect.  It is also true that some Metro students are pursuing certificates or plan on transferring elsewhere, so this unfairly skews both sets of numbers. In my view the best use of retention and grad numbers is to help families ask hard questions of a school about how they are supporting their students.

Dr. Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant and college counselor who helps students and their families stay on top of college planning. Lisa’s practice is grounded in 27 years of college teaching and 20 years in higher education administration. She constantly tours, reads, and does professional development in order to give clients the most up-to-date info.

Happy to be Among the 26%

I was delighted to hear that a recent research study on high achieving seniors in the U.S. showed that fully 26% report having used an IEC (independent educational consultant) in their college search and application process. With high school counselors frequently managing impossibly high caseloads and the increasingly positive publicity that credentialed IECs are receiving nationwide, that number will likely climb even higher in the near future. Check out the IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association) website for the full story and extensive information on locating and evaluating consultants:

I was so fortunate discover that my extensive background in college teaching and administration was highly relevant to this field four years ago when I decided to launch Pinnacle Education Consulting. I truly love what I do and greatly enjoy partnering with Colorado students and families on college planning.

I’m also quite proud of my clients and their achievements. Here are some of the institutions where recent clients have been accepted:

  • Colorado State University
  • Cornell University
  • Gonzaga University
  • Louisiana State University
  • Montana State University
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Santa Clara University
  • Swarthmore College
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Denver
  • University of Montana
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Texas
  • University of Virginia
  • Villanova University
  • Washington University St. Louis

Looking forward to getting my “26% Ask Me” Button at the IECA conference this May in Philadelphia!

Lisa Ransdell, PhD

Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC

Denver, CO   303-635-6620