Samuel Adamson, a University of Colorado Boulder sophomore from Grand Junction, is trading in his Buffs gear to become a Colorado Mesa University Maverick come spring.
The 19-year-old and his family, fed up paying a regular year’s tuition for what is anything but a regular university experience, decided to ditch his dreams of a Boulder college ride and transferred somewhere cheaper and closer to home.
With merit scholarships and in-state tuition, Adamson’s family was paying about $6,000 a semester for his engineering degree at CU. He’s looking to pay about half that at CMU, where spring courses currently are expected to be a mix of in-person, online and hybrid.
“I don’t want to be hard on the professors because I know they’re trying their best, but it’s so hard to get stuff out of the online classes that were clearly meant to be in-person classes,” Adamson said. “So many you can tell are just forced into the online format and don’t translate well. A lot of the times there are technical difficulties.
“Plus, I’m just sitting in my bedroom all day not having a college experience.”
Universities across Colorado largely have charged students the same tuition in 2020 compared to non-pandemic years — thousands to tens of thousands of dollars — for what is, arguably, the most disrupted, helter-skelter year in modern higher education history.
Colleges burdened by unrelenting COVID-19 costs in a state that poorly funds higher education are being harangued for not refunding some portion of students’ tuition. Meanwhile, members of the staff, faculty and administration whose salaries comprise a good chunk of tuition dollars are speaking out about working harder than ever while facing pay cuts and furloughs.
The nuanced situation — disappointed students and families, diligent faculty and staff, and a butchered budget — worries Colorado’s higher education chief, who believes colleges must figure out how to convey their value to students before they lose them.
“I’m not sure that students are perceiving the value of higher education in this moment of crisis,” said Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “Why should I go with all the risks I might be taking? What is the value of it to me if I’m not getting the experience I thought I would have?”
The value in higher education at any level, Paccione said, is earning a degree that lands its recipient a fulfilling job and maximizes their earning potential.
“It’s critical that students get a credential,” Paccione said. “Maybe not a bachelor’s, but you have to get something if you want to contribute to the economy, to the society and to your own livelihood and fulfillment,” Paccione said. “When you do, you earn a whole lot more money. One million dollars more in a lifetime, research shows.”
Paccione acknowledged most statewide institutions, hampered by restrictions on gatherings due to the novel coronavirus, haven’t been able to provide the traditional college experience of packed football stadiums, crowded lecture halls with boisterous conversations, and get-to-know-you