With its stunning scenery and outdoor culture, Colorado has long attracted college students looking to experience four years of living in one of America’s most beautiful states. Unfortunately for students on a budget, Colorado also happens to be one of America’s most expensive states. Indeed, as of October 2019, Colorado’s overall cost of living is 31.5% higher than the national average. That’s why we’ve done some research to find the 10 most affordable college towns in Colorado by taking into consideration both cost of living and quality of life.
Our editors used Wikipedia to make a list of every college town in Colorado, then used Sperling’s Best Places to rank them on general affordability. To figure out which college towns are most affordable, we looked at costs for housing, food, healthcare, transportation, and utilities, and compared them to the national average. We also considered features like amenities, crime rates, public transportation, and overall quality of life before narrowing our list down to the 10 most affordable college towns in Colorado.
Adams State University
Cost of Living: 12.2% lower than the national average; 43.7% lower than the state average
The median age of Alamosa’s population is 28 years old. Therefore, college students attending Adams State University will feel right at home in this pretty little town which is close to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. With plenty of historic and outdoor pastimes to enjoy here, college residents will appreciate Alamosa’s low cost of living. Housing costs average only 83% of the national average, while transportation averages only 66% of the norm. Meanwhile, average costs for food, entertainment, and utilities tend to average right on par with the national average.
Colorado State University – Pueblo, Pueblo Community College, Academy of Medical & Health Science
Cost of Living: 10.4% lower than the national average; 41.9% lower than the state average
No matter what your interests, Pueblo is a great and affordable Colorado college town. The often-sunny weather and high desert climate make Pueblo an ideal place to enjoy the outdoors. Many of Pueblo’s college-aged residents partake in hiking, cycling, kayaking, fly fishing, golfing, and skiing — when they’re not studying, of course. The cost of living is a whopping 42% lower than the typical Colorado town. Students can save money on things like housing, which is 20% lower than the national average, and use their hard-earned cash for much more fun things.
3. Grand Junction
Colorado Mesa University, Western Colorado Community College
Cost of Living: 2% higher than the national average; 29.5% lower than the state average
Students living in Grand Junction, Colorado can experience all the benefits of the city while being surrounded by some of the state’s most beautiful natural scenery. The Western Colorado Botanical Gardens makes for a relaxing study spot. Nearby Colorado National Monument is home to some of the best hiking spots and views in the Centennial State. Perhaps best of all is Grand Junction’s relatively low cost of living. This fun outdoor paradise falls right on par with the national average, but is a whopping 30% less expensive than the Colorado norm.
Western State Colorado University
Cost of Living: 7.6% higher than the national average; 23.9% lower than the state average
Whether summer or winter, pretty Gunnison, Colorado is a great place to be. Home to Western State Colorado University, Gunnison enjoys a cost of living that is only slightly higher than the national average, yet a full 24% lower than the state norm. That’s pretty impressive considering all there is to do here. During the summer, students can explore the many trails via foot, bike, 4×4, or even horseback. Multiple local rivers and lakes make for great places to swim, kayak, and water ski to cool off during the hottest months. Though Gunnison averages a bit colder than some of its neighbors in the winter, the good skiing opportunities more than make up for the need for an extra layer.
University of Northern Colorado, Aims Community College, Academy of Natural Therapy
Cost of Living: 12.2% higher than the national average; 19.3% lower than the state average
Located a quick hop from Fort Collins and Boulder (with maybe an extra hop to get to Denver), Greeley is home to a community college, a school for natural therapy methods, and University of Northern Colorado. The town offers a variety of things to do, including a mall and several parks. But most residents agree that Greeley’s main advantage is its low cost of living. Living in Greeley costs 19% less than the Colorado average. This makes Greeley a convenient place to live while remaining accessible to the major sites and attractions of the nearby big cities.
6. Colorado Springs
University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado Technical University
Cost of Living: 12.9% higher than the national average; 18.6% lower than the state average
As home to the prestigious U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the premiere military towns in the country. In recent years, Colorado Springs has also established itself as quite the college town. Students living in Colorado Springs have plenty of activities at their disposal. The luxurious Broadmoor Hotel has an excellent golf course, while Garden of the Gods and Seven Falls offer world-class hiking. The cost of living in Colorado Springs isn’t too bad either, considering this fun college town doubles as a tourist destination. Students here pay a whopping 46.6% less for housing than in many other Colorado towns. Costs for entertainment, utilities, healthcare, and food also average less than the norm.
7. Fort Collins
Colorado State University
Cost of Living: 29.2% higher than the national average; 2.3% lower than the state average
Students attending Colorado State University will be living in one of the most desirable towns in all of the Centennial State. Indeed, Money magazine consistently includes Fort Collins on its list of “Best Places to Live in the U.S.” When they’re not studying, CSU students can head to nearby Front Range for hiking or skiing. They can also take part in any of Fort Collins’s numerous annual events. These include the “Tour de Fat,” when people come from all over to dress up in costumes and ride bicycles around town. For many college students, such a high quality of life is worth the extra cost. Though Fort Collins’s cost of living ranks 29% above the national norm, this is mostly due to the town’s high housing costs. Meanwhile, costs for food, healthcare, utilities, transportation, and entertainment are all — mercifully — right on par with the average.
American Sentinel University, Ecotech Institute, Platt College – Aurora, Colorado Technical University – Greenwood Village, Community College of Aurora
Cost of Living: 30.2% higher than the national average; 1.3% lower than the state average
Nicknamed “The Most Active City in America,” Aurora is sure to impress even the most studious of college students. There are more than 100 parks and 5,000 acres of protected open space here. That means there is plenty of room to enjoy:
- kayaking and sailing in the Aurora Reservoir
- jogging or cycling along the many trails
- playing some golf at one of more than 10 courses
For those who prefer more culture, Aurora also boasts an impressive Cultural Arts District, complete with a theater and orchestra. Best of all, Aurora remains one of Colorado’s most affordable towns. Average costs for food, healthcare, utilities, and entertainment are all less than or right on par with the national average.
Fort Lewis College
Cost of Living: 34% higher than the national average; 2.5% higher than the state average
Okay, so Durango’s cost of living is 34% higher than the national average, but it’s an awesome place to live! Students at Fort Lewis College have the opportunity to live in one of Colorado’s most unique towns. Nestled on the edge of the San Juan Mountains, Durango is home to great ski slopes, a charming historic downtown, and easy access to rock climbing in the Moab. In terms of prices, Durango’s cost of living is mainly driven up by high housing costs which are more than double the American average. But this is potentially good news for students choosing to live in campus housing. Food, entertainment, and utilities costs all range 3-7% higher than the national norm. Costs for transportation and utilities actually average below.
Colorado School of Mines
Cost of Living: 63.1% higher than the national average; 31.6% higher than the state average
Like Durango, Golden’s overall cost of living is slightly misleading. Officially averaging a whopping 63% higher than the national average, Golden’s living costs are driven up by high housing costs. They’re nearly triple the U.S. norm! Golden is a delightfully charming — yet increasingly crowded — place to live. The historic downtown makes for a nice place to socialize. Lookout Mountain, South Table Mountain, and Clear Creek White Water Park offer a never-ending supply of outdoor activities. And if you aren’t turned off by the housing costs, the rest of Golden’s expense categories are surprisingly un-intimidating. Food averages 4.5% less than the typical, while utilities and healthcare also rank well below the national norm.
And which Colorado college town is most expensive? That would be Boulder, with an average living cost 86.9% higher than the national average.