Universities and colleges in Colorado are experiencing an incredible spike in out-of-state applications, but are quick to deny that has anything to do with legalized marijuana.
University of Colorado Director of Admissions Kevin MacLennan says that applications to the state-run university system are up 30 percent since Colorado passed Amendment 64, but he doesn’t believe legalized marijuana had anything to do with it. Instead, MacLennan points to increased high school recruitment and adoption of a standardized online application system called “Common Application.”
That excuse doesn’t seem to hold water. Many universities throughout the nation have added “Common Application” and all of them recruit from high schools. It also doesn’t explain how Colorado’s smaller colleges without the big recruiting power of a pubic PAC-12 university, like the private liberal arts school Colorado College, are also seeing dramatic increases in enrollment applications. Their vice president for enrollment, Mark Hatch, thinks it’s just part of a longer-term trend, explaining, “This year is no different, so there is no evidence that our increase [is tied] to Amendment 64.”
Mike Hooker, spokesman for Colorado State University, said, “I have a hard time believing that someone is going to make that kind of significant decision about investing in their education based on whether they can smoke marijuana in the state.” Will Jones, a spokesman for University of Denver, which saw a 81 percent increase in enrollment over the past five years, also doubts Amendment 64 made any difference, explaining that marijuana is just as illegal on campus as it has always been.
Meanwhile, a report from the National Student Clearinghouse from December 2013 found that overall college enrollment nationwide fell for the second year in a row in 2013. Part of that is a demographic change; there are fewer high school age people graduating and seeking college. The decline was seen mostly in private, for-profit colleges (like Colorado College), which dropped 9.7 percent. Public, four-year institutions saw a modest gain of 0.3 percent in enrollment.
Regionally, it would seem that enrollment somewhat correlates with marijuana tolerance. The Midwest saw the greatest two-year decline in enrollment, dropping almost five percent from 2011 to 2013, and the South dropped 2.5 percent. Meanwhile, enrollment in the Northeast dropped only one percent. So when Colorado University is experiencing a 30 percent increase in just one year following marijuana legalization, academic spokesmen have to work extra hard to avoid the bong-smoking elephant in the room.