Kimberly Barry spends $200 a month driving her Subaru from Colorado Springs to Colorado State University-Pueblo. She's planning to be a middle school science teacher, and chose CSU-Pueblo because of its "cutting-edge" education program. However, the top cut may mean a huge rut in Barry's credit rating.
"I haven't really adjusted my budget," says Barry, a senior. "I just throw it all on credit cards."
When asked about swiftly mounting debt, she admits, "I can't think of it that way; it's like a psychosomatic thing."
Colorado's higher education outlets are thinking this way, to varying degrees, and they're shifting to accommodate suffering students via online courses. The University of Colorado at Boulder alone reported a 20 percent jump in online and distance-learning enrollment from last summer to this summer.
This fall, CSU will inaugurate Global Campus, a degree program that's entirely online. Rich Schweigert, Global Campus CEO, says the goal was to create a cost-effective program in conjunction with the community college system, enabling people statewide to get to an education.
"In fact," Schweigert says, "we waived our June and July application fee because some students come to us and asked, "Look, can you waive this so we can buy a tank of gas?'"
The global campus will offer two bachelor's, master's and certificate programs and an abundance of individual courses (including online teaching and learning).
At the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where university research suggests the average student commutes about five miles each way, online courses have been in place for five years. Kathryn Andrus, director of the eCollege Teaching and Learning Center, says that gas prices aside, students have gravitated toward the Web's flexible, interactive learning.
Colorado College, while not a commuting campus, bases much of its educational philosophy on experiential learning, rooted heavily in class field trips and service trips. Gas prices will make an "inevitable impact," according to Julie Stockenberg, the director of first-year and sophomore studies. Budgets that were established months ago now might not accommodate costs for school-organized trips.
"We should have been more proactive," says Stockenberg, "but at the time, gas was $1 a gallon less."
Some programs have just required a little restructuring. CC's Center for Service and Learning reports that for its freshman orientation backpacking and service trips this year, in anticipation of transport costs, students will be dropped off using six 15-passenger vans, after which groups will continue either on public transportation or on foot.
Of course, outside the academic sphere, students will be on their own. Stockenberg speculates many could scale back their road trips, for one thing. Some will skip activities even closer to home.
Barry will be one of them.
"I don't go to [campus] events anymore, like I used to," she says.