Students graduating from rural high schools and going to college lags behind the state average
DENVER – April 15, 2021: The college-going rate in Colorado has remained relatively stable over the past 10 years, according to, Pathways to Prosperity: Postsecondary Access and Success for Colorado’s High School Graduates, released today by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE). For the class of 2019, the college-going rate was 56.3%, remaining fairly consistent from 2018’s 56.6%. However, high school graduates who enrolled in college were more likely to complete their credential than the class before them. When factoring in students who earned a credential through concurrent and dual enrollment programs, the total postsecondary success rate increased to 57.6%, according to the report.
For the first-time, the report includes data specific to students who graduated from rural areas. The college going-rate for these students is 51%, which is lower than the state average. Rural areas often have fewer resources and opportunities than their urban counterparts.
Early evidence suggests equity gaps in higher education may be exacerbated as the pandemic disproportionately affects students of color, low-income students, and students from rural communities. While equity gaps persist, college-going rates are increasing for American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and Hispanic or Latinx (all had increases of over 5% since 2015). American Indian or Alaska Native, and Asian students showing the highest growth in college-going rates of more than 8% since 2015. However, data in the report show Black or African American students’ college-going rates dropped more than 3% after four years of gains. Continued and more focused work toward guiding all students, particularly underrepresented student populations, into a college-going pathway is critical to meet the state's credential attainment goals.
“The pandemic has made it even more urgent for Coloradans to complete a postsecondary credential after high school,” said Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of CDHE. “We must mobilize our communities to expand higher education opportunities for all. While our investment into pathways such as CTE, dual and Concurrent Enrollment have shown promising results for credential completion – continued and more focused work toward guiding students in underrepresented populations into a college-going pathway is critical.”
Outcomes for lower-income Coloradans
Similar to the racial and ethnic gaps, enrollment discrepancies persist among students from lower-income families. Students who received free or reduced lunch (FRL) in high school enrolled in college at disproportionately lower rates than their counterparts (42.3% vs. 62% ). There are also significant gaps between those who qualified for FRL in high school and those who did not. In fact, 20% more students who did not qualify for FRL completed a full-time or on-time course load than students who qualified for FRL. This difference is significant, as enrolling in more credits can help contain costs for students
Low-income Asian students (70%) are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education than low-income members of any of the other race/ethnicity groups. Black or African American low-income students (49%) are the next most likely to enroll group.
Student success measures
A total of 2,220 graduates in 2019 completed a postsecondary credential in high school, representing 3.7% of 2019 high school graduates. However, the report shows equity gaps as White students are the most likely to engage in CTE, and Black or African American and Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students are least likely. Research shows those who achieved a credential in high school were also far more likely to enroll in postsecondary education.
The number of high school graduates graduating with a postsecondary-recognized credential has increased nearly 1,000% over 10 years. First-year GPA and course credits completed continues to rise.
Other key findings
- 72% enrolled in CTE courses in high school – no change since 2018
- Reform is working. Students who need developmental education courses, particularly at two-year colleges, continues to decrease.
- In 2019 a total of 25,527 high school graduates did not complete a credential in high school or enroll in a postsecondary institution.
- First-year GPA and course credits completed continue to rise
- Equity gaps in higher education may be exacerbated as the pandemic disproportionately affects students of color, low-income students, and students from rural communities
- While equity gaps persist, college-going rates are increasing for American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and Hispanic or Latinx students
Efforts to improve outcomes
The Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE), CDHE and institutions of higher education partner with outside organizations to boost postsecondary enrollment rates. As part of Colorado Free Application Day, every Colorado public college and university—and several in-state private institutions—waived application fees for in-state students only. This resulted in a 28% increase in applications for the event statewide in 2020, saving students more than $2.3 million in waived application fees. Nearly half of the applications (25,206) were submitted by students of color, and nearly a third were submitted by first-generation students (15,698). Read more examples in the report.
About the report
Now in its tenth iteration, the report provides both statewide information as well as district-specific results aimed at strengthening efforts to improve student success and alignment between the K-12 and higher education systems. The report was submitted to the Education Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives and the State Board of Education, pursuant to 23-1-113  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 Colorado Rises.