Colorado college-going rates impacted by the pandemic decreased by nearly 6%

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All student demographics experienced strong decreases in college-going, especially high school graduates from small rural areas

DENVER – May 3, 2022: The college-going rate for Colorado's high school graduating class of 2020 decreased significantly due to the pandemic, according to "Pathways to Prosperity: Postsecondary Access and Success for Colorado's High School Graduates," released today by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. For 2020 grads, the college-going rate was 50.5%, more than a 5% decrease from 2019. The state's rate is more than 10% lower than the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed the 2020 national college-going rate was 62.7%. However, the percentage of students who earn a college credential while in high school continues to increase. According to the report, when factoring in students who earned a credential through concurrent and dual enrollment programs, the total postsecondary success rate increased to 52%.


For the second year, the report includes data specific to students who graduated from rural areas. The college-going rate for these students is 46.3%, which is lower than the state average. Small rural areas, which are defined as school districts with less than 1,000 students, experienced an even larger drop in college-going rates declining 10% to 43.2%. Rural areas often have fewer resources and opportunities than their urban counterparts.

The data suggests equity gaps in higher education were exacerbated as the pandemic disproportionately affects students of color, low-income students and students from rural communities. College-going rates most impacted students who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latinx and Two or More Races. Continued and more focused supports guiding all students, particularly underrepresented student populations, into a college-going pathway is critical in meeting the state's credential attainment goals.

"While the report demonstrates that there was a significant decline in enrollment for students from some ethnic, racial, income and geographical groups, it is also important to remember that students are individuals, not categories, and support must be provided to meet an individual student's needs," said Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of CDHE. "We continue to focus on integrating and aligning higher education with the workforce, as well as instilling the profound value of a college credential for the future vitality of the individual and the community."

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 (36.2% vs. 56.4%). Nearly 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 and decrease the time to graduation.
Low-income Asian students (65.1%) are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education than students from all other race/ethnicity groups—even students who are not eligible for FRL. Low-income Black or African American students (49%) are the next most likely to enroll of students eligible for FRL.

Student Success Measures
Career and Technical Education continues to see strong participation rates in high school. Seventy-two percent of 2020 high school graduates enrolled in CTE courses during high school, and 51% completed a CTE program. This is promising as Colorado's CTE programs deliver proven pathways to career success through rigorous, career-connect courses and programs.

A total of 2,294 graduates in 2020 completed a postsecondary credential in high school, representing 3.8% of the graduating class. Nearly all race and ethnic groups increased in dual enrollment participation. Research shows those who participate in dual enrollment in high school are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education.

The number of high school students graduating with a postsecondary-recognized credential has increased by nearly 1,200% over 11 years. First-year college GPA and course credits completed plateaued after multiple years of increases.

Other Key Findings

  • Reform is working. Students attending community colleges who need developmental education courses continues to decrease. However, developmental education needs for students attending four-year institutions continues to increase.
  • In 2020 a total of 29,136 (48%) high school graduates did not complete a credential in high school or enroll in a postsecondary institution.
  • 25% of 2020 high school graduates enrolled in postsecondary education out-of-state. A slight decrease from 2019, after many years of increases. More out-of-state institutions of higher education are recruiting in Colorado as the overall number of high school students is decreasing nationally.
  • Equity gaps in higher education were exacerbated as the pandemic disproportionately affects students of color, low-income students and students from rural communities.
  • 42% enrolled in college courses while in high school – a 2% increase.
  • The rate of Colorado high school graduates completing their postsecondary credential in four years continues to rise and has done so since 2009.

Efforts to Improve Access: Free Application Days
The Colorado Commission on Higher Education, CDHE and institutions of higher education partner with outside organizations to boost postsecondary enrollment rates. As part of Colorado Free Application Days, which was expanded from one to three days in 2021, every Colorado public college and university—and several in-state private institutions—waived application fees for in-state students only. More than 62,000 applications were submitted during the event, an increase of 10% compared to 2020, saving students more than $2.5 million in waived application fees. Nearly half of the applications (45%) were submitted by students of color and more than a third were submitted by first-generation students (37%). Next year's Free Application Days will be held October 18- 20, 2022.

About the report
Now in its 11th 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 [9] 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.

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