Colorado ,is a state of remarkable contrasts. Though it's widely recognized for its largest city, Denver — with its snow-covered peaks, booming creative economy, low unemployment and highly educated workforce — much of the state is comprised of rural, sparsely populated agricultural land and an aging workforce, reported an article in the Denver Post, published July 2017.
Though Colorado is one of the top five states in the country for its postsecondary education attainment, it's nowhere near where it needs to be in terms of having a skilled workforce that can fulfill employer demand and help grow the economy.
That's where online education in Colorado comes in. Online degree programs can give urban residents a competitive edge; provide rural residents in need of skills with greater access to programs; and provide education that's more responsive to employer needs. Keep reading to learn about your options for online degree programs in Colorado.
Why Earn an Online Degree in Colorado?
In 2018, the Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) reported that 56.2 percent of Coloradans had postsecondary credentials — a certificate or degree. This is far below the 74 percent the state needs to supply its fastest-growing and top-paying jobs by 2020. Residents of Colorado must earn postsecondary credentials in order to obtain these jobs, and employers cannot thrive otherwise.
Plus, it pays to earn online degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as education level rises, pay goes up and unemployment drops. American workers with only high school diplomas made a median weekly salary of $712, while those with associate degrees earned $836, and those with bachelor's degrees earned $1,173.
Online programs enable students to earn the degrees of their choice, regardless of location or schedule. In a state like Colorado, where about 40 percent of the population lives in rural areas not served by nearby colleges and the population is increasingly getting older and may need rebuild their skills, this is especially important.
Top 20 Online Colleges in Colorado 2019
Whether you've recently graduated high school, already in the workforce and looking to enhance your career or returning to school after a long absence, these colleges can be your top options for the best online student experience. We've filtered online colleges in Colorado by criteria that would be most important to a distance education student by using data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Be sure to take a look at our methodology at the bottom of the page.
Top Online Degree Programs in Colorado
Online colleges frequently develop programs based on the needs of the workforce. With that in mind, explore these top online degree programs in Colorado based on the number of online enrolments. Popularity of degree programs is often indicative of job market needs in the state.
Quality of Online Education in Colorado
Colorado is a partner in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) through the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE). This agreement among member states not only makes it easier for students to take online programs at postsecondary institutions in those states, but its oversight by a national council ensures consistent, rigorous quality standards across states and institutions.
Also reassuring to students seeking quality distance programs is that many Colorado colleges that offer online degree programs are recognized by Quality Matters, a comprehensive quality assurance program that emphasizes continuous improvement in online program design. Among the schools that subscribe to QM are the Colorado Community College System, University of Northern Colorado, Colorado Mesa University and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
Plus, Colorado State University is in some ways a pioneer in online learning quality. It was one of the three founding schools behind Unizin, a school consortium that provides members access to shared online infrastructure and program content and can analyze the effectiveness of that content to make continuous improvement.
What to Look for in Online Degree Programs in Colorado
The educational needs of a recent high school graduate are much different from those of working mother or a mid-life career changer. Whatever your needs, there's probably an online program that can meet them, but spend some time doing your homework to find the right program. Here's some advice to get started.
- Interview the program administrators and faculty. Be sure that the program is a good fit for your learning style, whether you'll learn the skills you need and whether the level of interaction suits you. And make sure the student support services — from tutors to counselors and tech support — are what you'll need them to be.
- Learn about program requirements. Find out whether the program is entirely or only partially online. If there's a face-to-face or real-time component, can you make that work, based on your location and schedule?
- Make sure it's accredited and of high quality. You can't receive federal financial aid at a non-accredited program, and employers may not even recognize your degree. Accreditation and review by nonprofit Quality Matters both help assure students of quality.
Top Occupations in Colorado
Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we provide this list of top occupations in Colorado to help you align your education with workforce demands.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||325,200||$42,960|
|Sales and Related Occupations||287,130||$50,660|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||259,440||$28,730|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||207,380||$81,340|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||195,980||$42,060|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||144,680||$84,520|
|Educational Instruction and Library Occupations||143,990||$56,250|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||143,530||$51,490|
|Computer and Mathematical Occupations||123,040||$98,240|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||104,660||$52,440|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||95,560||$34,150|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||84,190||$32,360|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Colorado
The CWDC says that in 2017, a whopping $47 million in federal Pell Grant aid was left on the table by Colorado's high school seniors. That's a lot of unused, free college money, especially in a state that desperately needs to grow its college attainment levels. The first step toward obtaining this and other federal aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The FAFSA is also key to receiving a lot of state, local and institutional aid. Here are some of the state-administered grants that may be available to students earning online degrees in Colorado:
- College Opportunity Fund: Created by the Colorado legislature, this program provides a stipend of $85 per credit hour to undergraduate students attending participating Colorado public colleges or universities.
- Colorado Student Grant and Colorado Graduate Grant: Drawing upon FAFSA information about household finances, these grants of up to $5,000 each (one for undergrads, one for graduates) are offered to eligible Colorado students enrolled in qualifying state colleges.
- Colorado College Responsibilities Grant: This program that awards $200-$600 per semester, is funded by the state assembly and intended for undergraduate students who are residents of Colorado and have not yet earned their bachelor's degrees.
Other awards may be offered depending on your situation and school of choice.
Tests You May Need To Take
There is no required college entrance exam that Colorado schools require for admission; rather, each school sets its own admissions requirements, which may or may not include test scores. For example, the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State ask applicants to submit either an SAT or ACT score, while Colorado Technical University doesn't require any test scores at all to apply. Consult with your desired school to learn more.
To be included in our ranking of the best colleges for online degree programs, all colleges had to meet the following five criteria:
- Be an accredited U.S. institution
- Offer either 2- or 4-year degree programs
- Have at least 1 percent of students taking at least some of their classes via distance education
- Be active in the 2015-16 school year
- Report data for all 15 specific ranking variables included in our methodology
We then ranked the remaining 2,169 colleges and universities and scored each on a 100-point scale on these specific. Our data points include:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The average amount of federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Full-time Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Open admissions policy for all or most entering first-time undergraduate-level students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Offers credit for military training
- Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- "Choosing the Best Online Program for You," by Kerry Hannon, The New York Times, Aug. 2, 2018,https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/02/education/learning/choosing-best-online-program.html
- "Colorado Divide: Seismic shifts create rural-urban chasm in the culture, economy and politics of the state," by Kevin Simpson, Denver Post, July 21, 2017,https://www.denverpost.com/2017/07/21/colorado-divide-rural-urban-chasm/
- Colorado State Aid, CollegeinColorado.org, accessed December 21, 2018,https://secure.collegeincolorado.org/Financial_Aid_Planning/Financial_Aid_101/Colorado_State_Aid.aspx
- Colorado Student Grants for College, CollegeScholarships.org, accessed December 21, 2018,http://www.collegescholarships.org/grants/states/colorado.htm
- "Colorado Talent Pipeline Report 2018," Colorado Workforce Development Council, accessed December 21, 2018,https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cwdc/colorado-talent-pipeline-report
- How to Apply, Colorado State University, accessed December 21, 2018, http://catalog.colostate.edu/general-catalog/admissions/how-to-apply/
- How to Apply, University of Colorado Boulder, accessed December 21, 2018,https://www.colorado.edu/admissions/apply
- Quality Matters, Colorado Community Colleges Online, accessed December 21, 2018,https://www.ccconline.org/quality-matters/
- "Quick Facts: Colorado," U.S. Census Bureau, July 1, 2018,
- State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), Colorado Department of Higher Education, accessed December 21, 2018,https://highered.colorado.gov/Academics/SARA/
- Student Admissions Process, Colorado Technical University, accessed December 21, 2018,https://www.coloradotech.edu/admissions/student-admissions-process
- Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment, 2017, Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 27, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/emp/chart-unemployment-earnings-education.htm
- "Will Unizin be a game changer for higher ed?" by Keith Button, EducationDive.com, June 17, 2014,https://www.educationdive.com/news/will-unizin-be-a-game-changer-for-higher-ed/270179/