With school back in session, many students and parents face college decisions soon – and the steep costs of attending. It’s a decision with far reaching impacts on both sides of the cost-benefit balance sheet.

On the cost side, since the recession college tuition has risen steadily and student loan balances have more than doubled, reaching about $1.5 trillion nationwide.

The vast majority of current Colorado higher education students receive student aid. Nearly 90 percent of two-year students and 72 percent of four-year students receive federal, state and institutional aid at Colorado schools, according to a report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE}.

That debt links directly to today’s young adults impaired ability to buy a home. Nationwide homeownership for ages 24 to 32 fell from 45 to 36 percent between 2005 and 2014, reports the Federal Reserve. Increased student loan debt is linked to this age group’s homeownership rate dropping by two percent percentage points – resulting in over 400,000 young adults in the U.S. who didn’t own a home in 2014 because of the rise in debt.

But the benefits of earning a college degree or technical certificate continue to make the investment worthwhile for Colorado students.

Colorado graduates see consistent wage gains within ten years, earning a median income of $50,000, $54,000 and $60,000 for certificate, associate and bachelor’s degrees respectively, reports CDHE. The highest return comes to those in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

In industry trades, a one-year certificate program yields greater return than a four-year education.

And the jobs are there. About 75 percent of all Colorado jobs and 97 percent of top ones – those that pay a living wage and have high growth rates – require a postsecondary credential, according to CDHE.

The good news is that new student debt has leveled off at Colorado’s four-year colleges and declined at two-year programs. The reduction is in the proportion of Colorado undergraduates taking on debt and the average amount.

The CDHE study resulted from a Colorado state legislature bill passed in May, 2018, that directs CDHE to publish an annual return on investment report. The inaugural report focuses on wage data and four key factors to determine the return on investment in higher education, including price, debt, choice and value.

Read the full reports at highered.colorado.gov/Publications/Reports/Legislative/ROI/201907_ROI.pdf and federalreserve.gov/publications/files/consumer-community-context-201901.pdf.

By Tom Kalinski. Tom is the broker/owner of RE/MAX of Boulder, the local residential real estate company he established in 1977. He was inducted into Boulder County’s Business Hall of Fame in 2016 and has a 40-year background in commercial and residential real estate. For questions, e-mail Tom at tomkalinski33@gmail.com, call 303.441.5620 or visit boulderco.com.