Colorado’s Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Public colleges and universities account for almost 75 percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. The best public colleges in Colorado provide broad access to reputable degree programs, affordable tuition, and sprawling educational communities.

Colorado’s Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in Colorado

Fans of the outdoors will feel right at home in Colorado. With the Rocky Mountains, Colorado River, and even part of the Great Plains, you’re sure to find adventure in The Centennial State. Students looking to balance outdoor adventure with higher education can choose from over 40 colleges and universities offering associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees for an average in-state tuition of $10,800.

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Colorado’s 28 public institutes include junior colleges, universities, the United States Air Force Academy, and the Colorado School of Mines, a research university that specializes in science, technology, engineering, and math. Tuition for Colorado’s public schools ranges from $3,000 to $19,000, with many of the colleges and junior colleges starting at $4,000 and the universities at $8,000. With smaller class sizes and student populations, Colorado’s private institutions, which includes five religiously affiliated campuses, tend to be more expensive, ranging from $4,000 to $55,000 in tuition. The University of Colorado, Boulder, a notable research institute, is ranked as the number one school in the state and has a student population of just over 32,000. Students can earn degrees in computer science and physics and, once graduated, can share alumni status with influential people, such as Steve Wozniak and Robert Redford. Prospective art students can check out Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, and those desiring a career in the medical field can look into the Institute of Business and Medical Careers.

To learn more, check out the best degree programs and top career opportunities offered in Colorado.


What are Colorado’s Colleges & Universities?

Colorado’s Best Overall

What is a public college? And what is the difference between a private and public college?

Public and private colleges and universities operate under different business models — one is a private company with private funding; the other is owned by the state and receives both state and federal funding to operate. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of private vs. public college, consider that many public colleges provide diverse course offerings, influential professors, and an excellent return on your investment.

Public colleges are schools that receive most of their funding from tax revenues. As a result, the cost of a four-year degree at a public university is often lower than the equivalent cost at a private college — especially for students attending a public school in their home state. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average annual cost (tuition, fees, room and board for full-time students) at a four-year public university was slightly over $20,000. In contrast, private universities cost, on average, nearly $43,000 annually.

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The following list of Colorado’s best public colleges and universities is composed entirely of schools offering four-year undergraduate degree programs. We’ve identified 17 public universities in Colorado; 10 that satisfy the following three conditions:

  1. It must receive direct funding from the state.
  2. It must be fully accredited.
  3. Its offer a broad range of bachelor’s degree programs.
  4. Its graduation rate must be above 40%.

How do we determine Colorado's best public colleges and universities?

Methodology

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Concentrated Influence”. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

10 Best Public Colleges & Universities in Colorado

  1. #1

    United States Air Force Academy

    #580 institution's historical influence
    #57 overall school desirability

    Acceptance

    13%

    Graduation

    87%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1335/30

    USAF Academy, CO

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    What is United States Air Force Academy known for?

    United States Air Force Academy’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Law
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Economics
  2. #2

    University of Colorado Denver

    #777 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    44%

    Student body

    16K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1110/23

    Denver, CO

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    What is University of Colorado Denver known for?

    University of Colorado Denver’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
  3. #3

    University of Colorado Boulder

    #203 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1250/28

    Boulder, CO

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    What is University of Colorado Boulder known for?

    University of Colorado Boulder’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Physics
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Chemistry
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Law

    Most Influential Alumni

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  4. #4

    Colorado School of Mines

    #810 institution's historical influence
    #595 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $19K

    Acceptance

    55%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1310/30

    Golden, CO

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    What is Colorado School of Mines known for?

    Colorado School of Mines’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Physics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
  5. #5

    Colorado State University

    #399 institution's historical influence
    #783 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    70%

    Student body

    29K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/26

    Fort Collins, CO

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    What is Colorado State University known for?

    Colorado State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Earth Sciences
    • Computer Science
    • Education
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  6. #6

    University of Northern Colorado

    #1253 institution's historical influence
    #556 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    88%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1085/22

    Greeley, CO

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    What is University of Northern Colorado known for?

    University of Northern Colorado’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Education
    • Business
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    Fort Lewis College

    #2764 institution's historical influence
    #576 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    92%

    Graduation

    42%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1090/20

    Durango, CO

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    What is Fort Lewis College known for?

    Fort Lewis College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Economics
    • Anthropology
    • Philosophy
  8. #8

    University of Colorado Colorado Springs

    #2431 institution's historical influence
    #593 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    90%

    Graduation

    45%

    Student body

    11K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/23

    Colorado Springs, CO

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    What is University of Colorado Colorado Springs known for?

    University of Colorado Colorado Springs’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice
    • Psychology
  9. #9

    Colorado Mountain College

    #5508 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $5K

    Graduation

    25%

    Student body

    3K

    Glenwood Springs, CO

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    What is Colorado Mountain College known for?

    Colorado Mountain College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Business
    • Nursing
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Criminal Justice
  10. #10

    Western Colorado University

    #4768 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    88%

    Graduation

    50%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1100/23

    Gunnison, CO

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    What is Western Colorado University known for?

    Western Colorado University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Literature
    • History
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Sociology
    • Earth Sciences
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

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