15 Best Value Colleges And Universities In Colorado

Updated December 5, 2022

If you're looking to go to school out West, find the best value college or university in Colorado on our top 15 list.

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Best Colorado Schools

By Iris Stone

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In this ranking, we examine top value universities and colleges in Colorado. For a look at flexible online options, see our ranking of the best value online Colorado colleges and universities.

If you're looking to go to school out West, it will be difficult to find a better spot than Colorado. In general, there are a lot fewer universities in this region than there are on the East Coast, and some states only have a few really serious options. But Colorado is a bright spot, full of spectacular options with equally spectacular mountain views. The state's public school system is especially strong, and between popular universities like University of Colorado and the University of Denver, you can't go wrong! The independent colleges in Colorado offer just as much quality - more so in some cases - and the Colorado School of Mines and Colorado College are both worth a close look.

While some would say that you can't put a price on the picturesque views and natural access you'll at any Colorado school, the reality is that most college applicants are trying to stick to a budget. Enter our "best value" ranking, a favorite of the budget-conscious, which will help you identify the universities that offer the most bang for their buck. These schools vary greatly in their exact cost and quality, but they all strike a balance that will make you feel like your money has been well invested.

Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.

Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, "net price" is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.

Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate - the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.

20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.

After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 78 to 166, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in Colorado.

Ranking the Top Value Universities and Colleges in Colorado

#1 United States Air Force Academy USAFA, CO
#2 Colorado School of Mines Golden, CO
#3 Colorado College Colorado Springs, CO
#4 Colorado State University Fort Collins Fort Collins, CO
#5 University of Northern Colorado Greeley, CO
#6 University of Colorado Boulder Boulder, CO
#7 University of Colorado Denver Denver, CO
#8 University of Denver Denver, CO
#9 Metropolitan State University of Denver Denver, CO
#10 University of Colorado Colorado Springs Colorado Springs, CO

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  1. United States Air Force Academy


    If you're looking for an academic experience that's completely different - and completely free - the United States Air Force Academy may be your best bet. Students spend four years in training at this military school, where coursework combines useful academic degrees, such as Aeronautics, Economics and Geosciences, and Operations Research, with rigorous military training. The campus doubles as an Air Force base and puts all incoming cadets through basic training - but the challenge doesn't stop there. Students must demonstrate both stamina and self-discipline in preparation for graduation, when they will be officially commissioned into the Air Force as second lieutenants. A narrow 17% acceptance rate proves that getting into this cheap Colorado college isn't easy, but at least paying for it is!

  2. Colorado School of Mines

    Golden, CO



    Forget top Colorado colleges - this school is one of the best of its kind in the nation. At the Colorado School of Mines, academics focus almost exclusively on applied science and engineering. With a selective 36% acceptance rate and a hefty $830,000 20-year net ROI, Mines demonstrates a clear commitment to both finding and graduating the very best students. But despite the fact that many learners at Mines are preoccupied with numbers and abstract figures, they don't live with their heads in the ground. The school advances a strong dedication to community issues and looks to focus its training on issues that matter - including environmental protection and resource protection.

  3. Colorado College

    Colorado Springs, CO



    Although this selection may not exactly be a standout when it comes to affordable Colorado colleges, it nonetheless deserves recognition as one of the most unique academic opportunities for independent students. The curriculum is completely unlike what you would experience elsewhere; students take one class at a time, spending nearly 4 weeks immersing themselves in a single subject. Learning is highly experiential and personalized, and professors will know your name in every class. Life on campus is fast-paced and animated, but that doesn't mean students don't get time to relax. Regular "block breaks" give you four days of vacation to take a camping trip, hike up a mountain, or simply recharge at home.

  4. Colorado State University Fort Collins

    Fort Collins, CO



    If you had tried to attend this Colorado university back in 1870, you might be out of luck unless you were a farmer looking for an education in agriculture. Fast-forward nearly 150 years, and the CSU of today has something for everyone. A blossoming research university with a national reputation in popular STEM subjects - including atmosphere science, environmental science, clean energy, and biomedical tech - CSU is busy producing highly successful graduates. Fort Collins alumni enjoy an average 20-year net ROI of $378k, and it's easy to see why! And if you're interested in living long enough to enjoy that success, CSU is the place to be; Fort Collins has been named the 4th healthiest midsize city in America.

  5. University of Northern Colorado

    Greeley, CO



    With an annual student enrollment of about 12,000, this Colorado university is certainly not the biggest school in the state. However, UNC comes in strong with big-school resources, offering students more than 200 academic programs, 300+ annual music and theatre performances, 19 NCAA Division I sports teams, and pristine on-campus facilities. UNC also makes a point of "caring for the whole bear," and provides unparalleled student support services for tutoring, career prep, and advising - plus a Center for Human Enrichment that caters to the needs of first-generation students.

  6. University of Colorado Boulder

    Boulder, CO



    If Denver isn't exactly your scene, you might try your luck at this Colorado university, the flagship university of the UC system. Whether you choose Boulder for its breathtaking mountain views, international recognition in numerous areas of research, affordable tuition, or booming social scene (almost 30,000 students attend!) you can't really go wrong at this cheap college in Colorado. Although its high acceptance rate doesn't exactly scream selectivity, UC Boulder performs levels above the competition in measures of student engagement. With an 84% annual retention rate, solid 70% six-year graduation rate, and 93% post-grad employment rate, it's easy to see how Boulder will get you more than your money's worth.

  7. University of Colorado Denver

    Denver, CO



    Also located in Denver is one of the premier locations of the University of Colorado, which actually consists of three distinct campuses throughout the metropolitan area. Travel to CU South Denver to participate in numerous K-12 outreach programs, visit the popular museum, and enjoy a one-of-a-kind "Wildlife Experience" in the cultural center. Alternatively, health science students can benefit from high-tech resources at the Anschutz Medical Campus, while adventurous learners can weave seamlessly into city life on the urban campus in downtown Denver. And in fact, at this school the city is the campus, where you will find internships, cultural experiences, and entertainment venues - all on your walk to class!

  8. University of Denver

    Denver, CO



    Th Denver university is almost old as the eponymous city itself, and it hasn't wasted any time over the course of its 150-year history. The school has burgeoned into a sprawling campus that supports more than 11,000 students from over 80 nations, and it has earned a reputation as a top college in Colorado for experiential learning and community impact. In fact, there's no reason you'll have to limit your collegiate experience to the city of Denver. The university strongly encourages students to immerse themselves in other cultures, and it puts is money where it's mouth is! You could apply for the Cherrington Scholars Program, which provides financial assistance - including round-trip airfare and visa application fees - to off-set the costs of studying abroad.

  9. Metropolitan State University of Denver

    Denver, CO



    More than simply providing an education, this Denver university professes to be in the business of "transforming lives." Its first priority is "broad access," which means catering to low-income and non-traditional students. In fact, 40% of the campus population attends part-time, while more than 30% are the first in their family to attend college. What's more, MSU is the best Colorado college for granting STEM degrees to students of color, making it a top-choice for science nerds and minorities alike. In total, MSU offers nearly 60 degree programs for undergrads, including individualized study for those looking to break the mold.

  10. University of Colorado Colorado Springs

    Colorado Springs, CO



    This Colorado university traces its roots to a really great bargain - a businessman sold the original 80 acres of campus space for just $1! This cheap Colorado college continues its reputation for bargain hunting to this day by passing on the savings to its students, both in-state and out. In exchange for a reasonable tuition check, you'll by into some of the best views in Colorado, including a scenic look at the rugged Austin Bluffs and looming Rocky Mountains. But there's plenty to do on campus, too. You'll have your pick of activities to supplement your academic goals, whether that means joining your classmates for some power yoga or practicing your rhymes at a poetry slam.

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College Navigator

This concludes our ranking of the top values universities and colleges in Colorado.

About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.

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