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Colorado College fans react after Colorado College tied the score at 3-3 in the second period against Denver during a hockey game Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Michael Ciaglo)

When Mark Hatch started working at Colorado College 18 years ago, in-state students accounted for more than 30% of the student body at the small, selective private liberal arts college nestled at the base of Pikes Peak.

Fast forward to today and that share has dropped roughly in half. 

“A lot of families in Colorado won’t look at us because of our sticker price,” said Hatch, who leads the Colorado Springs college’s admissions department. Without financial aid, a new student can expect to pay about $71,000 a year on tuition and room and board. 

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Colorado College has launched an experiment, named the “Colorado Pledge,” to eliminate that sticker shock and try to drive up the number of in-state students by drastically reducing the cost for in-state students entering in the fall of 2020 whose families make up to $200,000 annually. Attending CC will be free to students whose families make $60,000 or less. 

Shove Chapel at Colorado College. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The pilot is part of an initiative the roughly-2,000-student college has been working on for years and comes as it has faced increased scrutiny for being too expensive and not having enough economic diversity.

In 2017, a Harvard University study reported on in the New York Times found that Colorado College had the second highest share of students coming from the wealthiest 1% of American families (making $630,000 or more) compared to the bottom 60% (making $65,000 or less). The study showed that about 24% of students entering the school around 2009 came from 1% families while 10.5% came from families in the bottom 60%.

Other exclusive colleges, including Harvard University and MIT, have used similar declarations to improve their economic diversity problem. MIT guarantees that tuition is waived for students from families making no more than $90,000 a year. At Harvard, financial aid programs pay 100% of tuition, fees, room and board for students from families earning less than $65,000 a year.

Here’s how the Colorado Pledge works: 

  • Students from Colorado families making an adjusted gross income of less than $60,000 annually will not be charged anything.
  • Students from Colorado families making an adjusted gross income between $60,000  and $125,000 annually will pay only room and board.
  • Students from Colorado families making an adjusted gross income between $125,000 and $200,000 annually will pay the in-state cost of attending University of Colorado.

The Colorado Pledge will not be accessible to students already attending CC and for now is limited only to students entering the college in the fall of 2020, including transfers. It will span their time at the institution. 

There are hopes to expand the program with more fundraising, potentially to include out-of-state students as well. 

The hope is to raise the in-state share of students at Colorado College to about 20%. The school isn’t sure how many more applicants it’s going to have as a result of the initiative, but they will still have to get through its competitive applicant pool to secure admission. 

Colorado College’s campus in Colorado Springs on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Last year, the college accepted about 13.5% of 9,500 applicants. About 1,300 of the applicants were from Colorado. 

The Colorado Pledge may give local applicants an edge in the selection process, Hatch said. 

“They are still going to need to compete in this process,” Hatch said. “Yes, we would like to boost our population a little bit. So if you are in a committee process and all things are equal, Colorado students who meet the Colorado Pledge might get a tipping factor.” 

The school also wants to make it clear that the initiative is not simply intended to decrease its acceptance rate by growing the applicant pool, a key statistic by which higher education institutions’ selectiveness is measured.

“It is not a badge of honor to turn down these kids,” Hatch said. “This is not a gimmick to try and be more selective. We want to make sure that we have more socioeconomic diversity.”

The Colorado College program comes as private and public institutions across the state are also examining how to better serve in-state students. 

The current ratio of in-state to out-of-state students is about 60-40 at University of Colorado Boulder, though it may soon flip.

Of last year’s incoming first-year students at the University of Denver, 31% at the private institution were from Colorado. At the Colorado School of Mines, a public school, 57% of current undergraduates are from Colorado.  

Editor’s note: Jesse Paul is a graduate of Colorado College.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....