Colorado’s public colleges face budget crisis decades in the making

By Jason Gonzales, Chalkbeat Colorado

In 1983, Nate Easley attended Colorado State University and received $900 federal grants each year that almost covered his annual cost of tuition.

CSU tuition has grown tenfold in nearly four decades, and state and federal support lag way behind, leaving Easley’s experience a distant memory.

“Higher ed is kind of out of reach for many kids now,” said Easley, who sits on the Colorado State system’s governing board and whose career has centered on college access. “One of the challenges of (this) generation is how to pay off college debt and get a start on life.”

For two decades, Colorado’s public colleges and universities have raised tuition repeatedly to keep schools afloat after the state cut higher education budgets following the 2001 and 2009 recessions. Each time, more of the institutions’ costs shifted to students and families.

The decades of disinvestment have placed Colorado universities in a precarious financial position with little margin to maneuver through the coronavirus pandemic. Students are already considering whether to stay home next fall. Raising tuition could cause enrollment to dip further, putting in jeopardy colleges’ main revenue source.

Unlike K-12, the state’s colleges don’t have guaranteed support from the state. And cuts over the years have placed Colorado near the bottom of the nation in public support for colleges and universities.

Even the most modest state budgetary reductions due to the coronavirus-induced recession are expected to diminish the ability of colleges to teach students. Deeper cuts — especially while the pandemic simultaneously prompts fewer students to enroll — could lead to the state’s more vulnerable colleges facing a death spiral.


Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit

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