Higher Education in Colorado

Higher education has always been an integral part of Colorado’s success. State leaders began building the first colleges and universities in the 1860s and 70s, long before Colorado became a state. The University of Denver was founded (under the name Colorado Seminary) in 1864, and Colorado State University was created in 1870 as the Agricultural College of Colorado. Other public and private institutions quickly followed.

By the end of the 19th century, DU, the University of Colorado – Boulder, Colorado College, the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado and other institutions were educating the citizens Denver needed to grow from a frontier town to a true city: doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, bookkeepers and engineers, not to mention musicians, writers and artists.

The end of World War II and the GI Bill brought about a massive expansion in higher education. Over the next 20 years this led to the creation of many new private and public institutions, including the Colorado Community College System. Colorado had a more educated workforce than ever before.

Higher education in Colorado today

The strength of Colorado’s colleges and universities has only continued to grow. We rank third in the country in the percentage of working-age adults with college degree (42 percent), a fact that has improved the quality of life here in any number of ways. The university and college system ensures that businesses have the educated and diverse workforce they need to compete and thrive in a global marketplace. Colleges and universities attract business and investment capital and spur economic growth by collaborating with industry partners.

From training new workers in such high-tech industries as aerospace and computer science to educating the teachers and health care professionals who instruct our children and care for our sick, Colorado’s colleges and universities make invaluable contributions to the state’s economy. They also enrich Colorado’s cultural life, hosting music, theater and film festivals, mentoring a new generation of artists and musicians and attracting a wide range of traveling performers.

The changes to come

There is no question that higher education is in a time of transition. Institutions in Colorado and other states face both great challenges and great opportunities. In the words of Rebecca Chopp, “Probably every single aspect in higher education is experiencing change.”

  • Tuition costs are rising, threatening to make college inaccessible to some students.
  • Technology is changing teaching and course delivery methods dramatically and staggeringly quickly.
  • Socioeconomic issues continue to fuel an attainment gap, meaning minorities and lower-income students are not only less likely to attend college, but also less likely to graduate if they do.
  • New generations of students require different learning experiences and environments to succeed.
  • Scholarship is constantly becoming more interdisciplinary, requiring relationship building within institutions and with businesses and organizations outside academia.


While celebrating the history of education at DU and colleges and universities across Colorado, Chancellor Chopp’s inauguration will also examine the possibilities and the pitfalls we may face in the future. See our full list of events to learn more.