Updated: August 1, 2017
The population of Colorado has never had more options for higher education than now. The topography of the Rocky Mountains leaves 42 percent of counties as rural. Within those counties, less than 20 percent of residents complete college degrees. Conversely, highly populated counties attract college graduates, and 60 percent of their residents hold postsecondary diplomas. The state colleges and universities of Colorado decided to offer online learning options to raise overall education rates. Their efforts have measurable results.
Today, 38 percent of all Colorado residents hold a college degree, which is the second best rate in the country. Retention rates across the state held steady at 75.8 percent in 2010 to 2011, and graduation rates of 59.2 percent contribute to its high national ranking. Colorado’s College Opportunity Fund (COF) gives a stipend to in-state residents attending the state’s colleges and universities both on- and off-campus. To participate, students must be undergraduates enrolled in college. Proof of Colorado residency must accompany the COF application.
The top career fields in Colorado require college degrees, but projections indicate tremendous state job growth in the next five years. Through the year 2022, foreign language interpreters will see job creation rise 70 percent, petroleum engineering will surge 67 percent, and 58 percent more information security analysts will be needed.
The robust economy in the state of Colorado makes it an appealing choice for students planning to settle in the state after graduation. As of May 2017, the state boasts an unemployment rate of just 2.3 percent. Job creation outpaces the national average, which is 1.2 percent. The state holds the #2 spot for the fastest population expansion of any U.S. state. Income for Colorado residents averages $59,000, which is 13 percent higher than the U.S. average.
Colorado ranks high in several key award categories. Forbes ranks Colorado first for Labor Supply and seventh in its “State to Make a Living” (2015). The site 24/7 Wall Street named Colorado the second fastest growing state in 2016, and Yahoo! Ranks the state as the second most educated for 2015.
It seems clear that Colorado residents who enroll in-state will find employment and job security after college. For those rural students, working parents, and post-baccalaureate professionals, pursuing an online education in the state makes higher education attainable.
What are the best online colleges in Colorado?
To assemble the top 15 online colleges and universities in Colorado, CollegeChoice.net follows a strict methodology. Each school exceeds educational standards of excellence, and each produces successful, skilled, well-rounded graduates. Excellence depends on critical factors such as class size, faculty-to-student ratio, assessment scores, degree attainment rates, and return on investment. Successful graduates report reasonable debt-to-income ratios, high starting salaries, and job placement within the first year of graduating. To find these numbers, we examined data from the IPEDS database of the National Center for Education Statistics, reports from U.S. News, income figures by Payscale, the website of each college or university, and various research websites.
Colorado State University-Global Campus
College Choice Score: 100
Average Net Price: $8,400
The Global Campus of Colorado State University has been 100 percent online since its inception in 2007. New classes start monthly, and each class lasts eight weeks. Using the trimester system, the school offers courses in its Fall, Winter, and Spring terms. Everyone who applies, no matter his or her place of residency, pays the same tuition rate, and tuition freezes at the level paid on the first day of enrollment. The Global Campus is categorized as the country’s only regionally accredited, fully online, independent state university.
National rankings for CSU-Global include 1st place in the 2017 Military Advanced Education and Transition Guide to Colleges and Universities publication, 5th in “Best Online Colleges of 2017” by Best Colleges, 15th in “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs” by U.S. News, and 16th in “Top 50 Best Value Online Graduate Schools for 2017” by Value Colleges.
CSU-Global offers its students several options to suit their needs: Bachelor’s degrees, certificates, specializations, and continuing education.
The Bachelor’s Degree options at CSU-Global:
- Applied Social Sciences
- Business Management
- Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration
- Healthcare Administration and Management
- Human Resource Management
- Human Services
- Information Technology
- Management Information Systems and Business Analytics
- Organizational Leadership
- Project Management
A specialization added to the bachelor’s curriculum requires an additional 15 credit hours (five classes) of upper-division coursework. There are 24 undergraduate specializations. The Global campus also provides nine certificates in Business Administration, Computer Programming, Cyber Security, Data Management and Analysis, Human Resource Management, Information Technology Operations, Marketing, Networking, and Project management. The school offers professional courses in 15 categories, including Business, Criminal Justice, Healthcare, Human Resources, and Information Technology.
Master’s degree programs include Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration, Finance, Healthcare Administration, Human Resource Management, Information Technology Management, International Management, Management, Organizational Leadership, Professional Accounting, Project Management, and Teaching and Learning. CSU-Global has seven graduate certificates in Business Analytics, Cyber Security, Educator Licensure (Math), Educator Licensure (Science), Human Resource Management, Principal Licensure, and Project Management.
The publication “Innovation and Quality in Online Education” details several important statistics for anyone considering the school. For example, when asked about their return on investment (ROI), 94 percent of graduates believed their degree helped them in their career. Income averages for graduates were also included. Bachelor’s degree holders earned on average $61,061 one year after graduation. That number swelled to $79,370 five years after graduating. For Master’s degree recipients, the one-year salary averaged $70,488, and at the five-year mark, salaries averaged $92,880.
College Choice Score: 99.27
Average Net Price: $25,544
As a Jesuit university that began 140 years ago, Regis University now has locations in northwest Denver (main campus), Colorado Springs, Thornton, and the Denver Tech Center, as well as offering online programs. The Denver Post lists Regis as providing “More Bang for Your Buck,” and U.S. News added the university to its roster of “Best Regional Universities – West” in 2016. Faculty for online classes at Regis includes professors, associate professors, affiliate faculty, and experts in their field with graduate to doctoral degrees.
The school belongs to the Online Consortium of Independent Colleges and Universities, so undergraduates can take classes outside of Regis. The assigned academic advisor approves coursework to ensure it applies to the student’s degree requirements, and courses taken elsewhere are still eligible for financial assistance.
Regis University offers a massive collection of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, certificates and licensures.
Bachelor’s degrees in Science and the Arts include five divisions. The number of programs in each division has been included (in parentheses):
- Business, Economics and Management (11)
- Computer and Information Science (5)
- Education (1)
- Health Care (4)
- Humanities and Social Sciences (8)
The university offers 49 graduate programs, 2 doctorates in Health Care, and 50 certificates and licensures.
The time commitment for each class runs ten to twenty hours a week. When ready to enroll, prospective students submit an application, fee, transcript(s), personal essay, and resume. Transfer students may carry over 90 credit hours with a C- (1.7 GPA) or higher grade.
Online students qualify for financial aid and other benefits. Military tuition discounts make classes more affordable, and licensed educators and paraprofessionals receive special rates. Employer partnerships allow for tuition discounts for their employees.
Courses include closed-captioning as needed for videos and multimedia presentations. Audio descriptions and transcripts provide alternatives to traditional media. The learning management system, WorldClass, facilitates web conferencing, media sharing, examinations, and an assignment drop box. Students utilize MS Lync/Skype, the MS Office Suite, Adobe Connect, Adobe Presenter, MediaSpace, Turnitin, Zoom, and Voice Thread. Technology use depends on the course.
University of Colorado Boulder
College Choice Score: 98.59
Average Net Price: $21,248
“Boulder Connect,” the online arm of CU Boulder, gives options for undergraduate classes, Master’s degrees, certificates, and on-demand courses. Admissions to Boulder Connect use the same criteria as on campus. Undergraduate applicants need a high school diploma or GED, transcript, and ACT or SAT results. For graduate students, transfers of up to nine credit hours count toward the degree.
The Division of Continuing Education at CU Boulder uses an online learning management system called Desire2Learn (D2L). Classes include online interactions with peers and instructors. Depending on the class, there may be traditional deadlines for course completion, or they may be taken at one’s own pace.
Online undergraduate offerings fall into ten core categories:
- Contemporary Societies
- Foreign Language
- Historical Context
- Human Diversity
- Ideals and Values
- Literature and the Arts
- Natural Science
- Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematical Skills
- United States Context
- Written Communication
A brand new, 100-percent-online Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) begins in Fall 2017. The degree, tailored to working professionals, includes elements of business, professional communication, and the social sciences. Courses are seven weeks each, totaling ten courses. Degrees can be completed in five semesters. Master’s programs available through Boulder Connect offer modern, high-tech live-streaming video and interactive learning.
University of Denver
College Choice Score: 97.89
Average Net Price: $32,063
Known as DU, this research university is the oldest independent school in the Rockies. U.S. News ranks the school in its 2016 lists “Top 100 Universities” (#86) and “Best Colleges for Veterans” (#53). The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education list DU as the best in Colorado and 89th nationally. Additional rankings sorted by college or school may be found here.
The following majors fall under the Bachelor of Arts Completion Program:
- Communication Arts
- Global Commerce and Transportation
- Global Studies
- Leadership and Organization Studies
- Environmental Studies
- Information Technology
The Master’s degrees available online fall under eleven categories, including Communication Management, Healthcare Leadership, and Information and Communications Technology. DU has 44 graduate certificates spanning all graduate programs. In addition, the University College offers dual Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, which save eight credit hours and thousands of dollars in tuition.
Online programs within the University College feature self-paced classes. All of the courses can be taken online, on campus, or a combination of both. Online courses have identical content to campus classes. Degrees can be completed fully online or partially on-campus.
The technical specifications for University College classes are Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7; or Mac OS X 10.5 or newer. Textbooks are available for purchase, and assigned articles may be accessed through electronic delivery from the school’s Penrose Library.
Colorado State University-Fort Collins
College Choice Score: 97.76
Average Net Price: $15,664
The university, known as CSU-Fort Collins, is a founding partner in Unizin, the digital education pioneer that provides badges, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and online degrees. Any online degree-seeking student must be accepted into CSU-Fort Collins.
The university has earned several honors in recent years. U.S. News ranks the CSU-Fort Collins 30th in “Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs,” 31st in “Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs,” and 48th in “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.”
Online Bachelor’s degrees at Colorado State University-Fort Collins include:
- Agricultural Business
- Fire and Emergency Services Administration
- Human Development and Family Studies
- Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts
CSU-Fort Collins has Master’s and Doctoral degree fields ranging from Engineering to Computer Science & Technology, Statistics, and Tourism. The online graduate certificate programs cover nine fields such as Business, Interior Design and Social Work.
Certificates can be earned independent of graduate degrees. If the certificate precedes graduate study, the credit hours may apply to the graduate degree. Professional Development and Training courses are available both credited and non-credited. Admission to CSU is not required for either. There are currently 13 professional development courses available online.
Students conduct classwork via the web and through the school’s learning management system, Canvas. The system allows for videos, discussion groups, text, projects, and knowledge assessments. Videos include recorded lectures, interactive videos, online recordings, and lectures recorded by instructors while out in the field. Podcasts and online audio recordings assist with lessons, and materials will include periodicals, blogs, web articles, and textbooks. Assessments occur through exams, quizzes, projects, and assignments.
University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus
College Choice Score: 89.78
Average Net Price: $12,568
There are almost too many accolades to mention for the programs at CU Denver/Anschutz. U.S. News places the school 9th on the list of “Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs.” The online Business School received a prestigious accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, which only approves 15 percent of all business programs in the world. Anschutz is the largest teaching medical center in the Rockies, and U.S. News ranks the University of Colorado Hospital the #1 hospital in Colorado.
CU Denver/Anschutz offers fully online Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees with 24 programs, 13 certificates, and Continuing Education courses. Anschutz offers over 450 online classes and more than 100 degree selections. The School of Education provides eight online certificates as well.
The College of Nursing offers a B.S. in Nursing (RN to BSN). Undergraduate degrees from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences include the B.A. in Communication, B.A. in English Writing, B.A. in Psychology, B.A. in Sociology, and Hybrid Integrative Biology Core Curriculum.
Graduate and doctoral students have opportunities in the Business School, College of Engineering and Applied Science, College of Nursing, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Colorado School of Public Health, Skaggs School of Pharmacy, School of Education and Human Development, and the School of Public Affairs and College of Arts and Media (SPA & CAM).
CU Online’s classes can be completed when convenient to accommodate all schedules. The faculty who teach these courses are the same ones who teach on campus, and most hold doctoral degrees. The learning management system is called Canvas, and its interface can be tested here.
Colorado Mesa University
College Choice Score: 87.55
Average Net Price: $13,246
Colorado Mesa University (CMU) is located in Grand Junction and enrolls 10,000 students. Their courses may be taken completely online, a combination of online and in-classroom, or mostly in-classroom with some online elements. The online-only classes have the same caliber and content as traditional coursework.
The fully online degrees available through CMU:
- B.S. Nursing – RN to BSN
- One year full-time or two years part-time; classes also on-campus
- B.S. in Sport Management
- B.A.S. in Radiologic Technology
- For students with an associate’s degree
- B.A. in Liberal Arts, Elementary Education Licensure
- Associate of Art, Social Science emphasis
Exams may need to be proctored, and there are testing sites in both Grand Junction and Montrose. Another site may be approved, such as a testing center or the Continuing Education office of a nearby college. Other options include proctoring by a notary public, librarian, clergyperson, or school administrator. The course instructor gives his or her authorization to use any alternative testing option.
The learning system, called Brightspace, includes online instruction, online materials, interactive classes, online discussion boards, live-streamed classes, and online submission of assignments. Students should have a DSL/cable modem, high-speed Internet, Windows XP or newer, MS Office 2003 or newer, and Java Runtime Environment 7.
Admission standards depend on the student’s status as freshman, transfer, veteran, international student, dual enrollment, graduate student, or returning to CMU. More information can be found on the CMU Admissions page.
University of Colorado - Colorado Springs
College Choice Score: 85.79
Average Net Price: $14,094
To be admitted to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (UCCS), graduate students and degree-seeking undergraduates should refer to their department’s requirements. Up to nine credit hours of graduate work may transfer to UCCS. Students in graduate certificate programs cannot apply prior credits. Undergraduate transfer students may carry over up to 72 hours from a 2-year program, or a limit of 90 credit hours from all prior colleges. Generally, incoming freshmen need to provide a paid application, SAT or ACT scores, transcripts or GED certificate.
UCCS offers 6 online undergraduate degrees, 12 online graduate degrees, and 28 online graduate certificates. Degree programs available 100 percent online include programs in Business, Communication and Criminal Justice.
Individual links to Health Care Sciences and Sociology majors:
- S. in Health Sciences – Hybrid Program
- Nursing Degree Completion – Hybrid Program
- RN to BSN or Dual Enrollment
- A. in Sociology
- Criminal Justice/Sociology Dual Major
Graduate programs range from the MBA Online and Master in Leadership to a Master of Engineering in Space Operations as well as other opportunities in Criminal Justice, Education, Engineering, Nursing, and Public Administration.
States already authorized to enroll students at UCCS include California, Connecticut, Kentucky (online only), Florida, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Utah, and Wisconsin. Residency restrictions do not permit students to enroll from Delaware. Students in any state participating in the SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) program can apply, but always verify a state’s participation by contacting the program’s advisor.
University of Northern Colorado Online
College Choice Score: 83.60
Average Net Price: $12,779
The University of Northern Colorado Online, known as UNCO, has offered online programs for over 20 years. The Extended Campus, which includes online programs, also offers individual classes, study abroad, workshops, independent study, and dual enrollment for high school students wanting to jumpstart their college degree.
Students who want to combine online and campus classes can do so at the main location in Greeley, or in Colorado Springs, Denver, or Loveland. The faculty for UNCO is either the same as campus classes or adjunct instructors. U.S. News ranks UNCO 123rd in its list of “Best Online Graduate Education Programs” and 165th in its “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.”
Online programs other than graduate nursing have rolling admissions. The graduate nursing program has a 61 percent acceptance rate, and the average undergraduate GPA is 3.6. Undergraduate business programs have a 72 percent acceptance rate, and the average high school GPA is 2.4. Graduate Education accepts 71 percent of applicants and prefers undergraduate GPAs averaging 3.5. GRE average scores are Verbal 154, Quantitative 147, and Analytical Writing 4.
The programs available at UNCO include Bachelor’s degrees, licensures, Master’s degrees, Educational Specialist programs, endorsements, certificates, online internship programs, and Doctorates.
Fields of study at the university, including the number of programs (in parentheses):
- American Sign Language (ASL) and Interpreting (4)
- Audiology and Speech-Language Sciences (2)
- Biological Sciences (1)
- Brewing (1)
- Business (2)
- Counseling and Psychology (4)
- Dietetics (3)
- Education – Teaching (15)
- Education – Special Education (13)
- Education – Theatre, Art, Music and Dance (4)
- Educational Leadership – K12 and Higher Ed (6)
- Gerontology (1)
- Nursing (6)
- Performing and Visual Arts (1)
- Sociology (1)
- Sport and Exercise Science (3)
Colorado Christian University
College Choice Score: 79.87
Average Net Price: $25,859
The interdenominational Colorado Christian University (CCU) belongs to the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. The school offers 100 degree programs from its location in the Rocky Mountain region near Denver. Of the 7,400 enrolled in its College of Undergraduate Studies and the College of Adult and Graduate Studies, over 5,000 are adult undergraduate students. CCU offers adult learners more than 50 degrees plus certificates and licensures.
CCU has a core curriculum in the top two percent of all U.S. colleges, according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. The school has held onto its ranking for the past five years. In January 2017, CCS added fully online, undergraduate teaching programs in Elementary Education, Early Childhood Education, and Special Education Generalist. All are for grades K-12 and designed for both licensure and non-licensure.
The adult undergraduate and graduate degrees and programs at CCU span 15 schools of study:
- Biblical Studies and Theology
- Health Care Administrator
- Human Resource Management
- Information Technology
- Marketing and Sales
- Project Management
- Public Service
These programs range from Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees to Master’s, Post-Baccalaureate, certificates, and graduate certificates.
Online programs include document sharing, discussion boards, email, and online classes. The learning system, called Blackboard, uses identical materials to those used in classrooms. Courses run five to ten weeks, depending on the degree chosen. Classes will have weekly due dates for student assignments.
Several states restrict access to CCU’s online programs. Students need to verify their state’s agreement to permit enrollment.
Johnson & Wales University-Denver
College Choice Score: 78.93
Average Net Price: $25,412
Students wanting to continue their education at Johnson and Wales University-Denver (JWU-Denver) have options for evening, weekend, and online classes. All of the faculty members are professionally trained, experienced chef-instructors. The perks of a JWU-Denver education include internships, professional networking, career services, and job fairs. Companies that hire graduates of this school are Aramark, Darden Restaurant Group, Four Seasons Hotels, the National Olympic Training Center, plus bakeries, caterers, resorts, restaurants, and arenas.
Graduates of the following College of Culinary Arts degrees go on to careers as kitchen managers, sous chefs, food and beverage directors, restaurant managers, and room service managers. The online degree options are a Bachelor of Science in Baking and Pastry Arts and Food Service Management, or a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management.
The B.S. in Baking and Pastry Arts and Food Service Management lasts two years and teaches team-building, marketing, cost analysis, managing finances, human resources, and management skills. The B.S. in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management also runs for two years, but students learn leadership styles, industry trends, management strategies, and financial management.
The learning system, known as “ulearn,” embeds self-help guides in course materials. If help is still needed, technical support operates Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The technology used for online classes requires a desktop or laptop, high speed Internet, speakers and/or a headset. Software used includes Adobe Acrobat Reader 8 or newer, Flash Player 9.0 or higher, and Java 7 or better. Windows users need version 7 or newer, and Mac OS users should have at least version 10.8.
Adams State University
College Choice Score: 77.15
Average Net Price: $12,905
Adams State University (ASU) has been designated an HSI (Hispanic Serving Institute). The school remains committed to serving minorities, students from low-income homes, and first-generation college students. Enrollment in Extended Studies is approximately triple the enrollment on the school’s campus in Alamosa, Colorado.
Online Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees at ASU include:
- Business Administration
- English/Liberal Arts
- Interdisciplinary Studies
- Interdisciplinary Studies/Elementary Education Licensure
- Nursing – RN to BSN
Professional Development for Educators courses are also available through ASU. These include Classroom Management, Literacy, and Music Education. The full list of course topics can be found on the school’s website. Programs outside of ASU partner with the school to offer courses for credit, including the American Museum of Natural History, CE Credits Online, EdTechTeam, and nineteen others.
ASU students may take advantage of the Credit for Prior Learning Program. Qualifying life experiences include, but are not limited to, military experience, volunteer work, past/current employment, job training, and enrollment in non-credited classes.
The university values the knowledge gained through these experiences. ASU also credits students for achievements for SAT/ACT scores, the Higher Level International Baccalaureate (IB) exam, the CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) test, AP exams, the DSST (Dantes Subject Standardized Test), certificates, credit by testing out of coursework, and credit for a portfolio.
Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design
College Choice Score: 74.26
Average Net Price: $27,697
Philip J. Steele founded the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) in 1963. Known as an illustrator and educator, Mr. Steele wanted to form a creative community with a passion for the arts. More recently, the university has added courses in the latest technology to teach 3D art, art for video games, and film animation. All students, whether on-campus or online, use an advanced Learning Management System (LMS) for classwork.
Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees, and certificates available at ASU Online include:
- BFA in Interior Design Online
- BFA in Illustration Online
- BFA in Graphic Design Online
- BFA in Game Art Online
- BFA in Photography Online
- BA in Business for the Creative Industries Online
- BFA in 3D Animation Online
- Certificate in Design Processes and Production
- Certificate in Commercial Photography
- Certificate in Pathways to Art and Design Online
- Graduate-Level Certificate in Investigations in Learning and Leadership
- Certificate in 3D Animation – Character Animation
- Certificate in 3D Animation – Pre-Production
- MA in Education, Leadership, and Emerging Technologies (ELET)
The Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts programs all require four years of study. The Master of Arts in Education degree lasts for one year. Certificates vary in their estimated length to completion. Gifted high school students in their junior or senior year may apply for the Dual Enrollment Program and take online classes. These students take up to 12 credit hours of coursework per year to get a head start on their college degrees.
The LMS gives students access to discussion boards, direct and group chat, grade tracking, and an assignment dropbox. The university’s TECHBAR support staff assists all students with their technology needs, and they are open during campus hours. Technology requirements differ based on the program of study, and each program includes a software package.
Colorado Technical University-Online
College Choice Score: 71.97
Average Net Price: $14,724
The awards for Colorado Technical University (CTU) have poured in from U.S. News and World Report: 28th in “Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs,” 38th in “Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs,” 81st in “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs,” 95th in “Best Online Graduate Business Programs (Excluding MBA),” and 160th in “Best Online MBA Programs.”
U.S. News categorizes CTU as for-profit and lists its current enrollment at 26,000 students. The average age of its students is 33, and just 15 percent enter as new freshmen. According to U.S. News, the school’s learning management system, Intellipath, includes a smartphone app. Students choose their own pace of study: the Career pace (2 classes each semester), the Traditional pace (1 class for a semester, then 2 classes the next, then 1 class, etc.), and the Part-Time pace (1 class per semester).
CTU offers Associate’s degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, and Management for entry-level careers or in preparation for bachelor’s programs. Bachelor’s degrees at Colorado Technical University include:
- Business and Management
- Criminal Justice
- Health Science
- Information Systems and Technology
Master’s degrees at Colorado Technical University cover Criminal Justice, Engineering and Computer Science, MBA programs in ten specialty fields, Information Science and Technology, and Management.
According to the report from U.S. News, CTU accepts 100 percent of its applicants. When surveyed in 2014, 63 percent of graduates with a bachelor’s degree reported their program at CTU prepared them for their field. To learn about military programs, speak with a personal advisor. CTU offers military benefits, credit transfers and quick enrollments for service members.