Colorado teachers earn 36% less than other college-educated workers, the worst gap in the country

Many Colorado teachers pick up another job to make ends meet. Meanwhile, districts fight to attract and retain educators who struggle to afford living expenses.

Erica Breunlin
The Colorado Sun
Ashley Smith, a teacher at Summit Middle School in Frisco, poses for a photo in her classroom on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. Colorado teachers earn 36% less than other college-educated workers, according to a recent study.
Liz Copan /

Teacher pay has long trailed behind other professions requiring a college degree, and in Colorado that pay gap is widest of any state, according to a report published last week by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit think tank that identifies itself as nonpartisan.

Colorado teachers earn 35.9% less than other college-educated workers, the report shows, with Oklahoma teachers facing the second largest gap, making 32.8% less than their college-educated peers in other industries. Pay gaps between teachers and their counterparts in other fields exist in every state.

It’s yet another grim indication of the tough financial realities hanging over teachers in Colorado, where many pick up another job to make ends meet and struggle to afford a home of their own. Fewer than one-fifth of homes across Colorado are affordable to teachers who make an average salary in their district, even as average teacher salaries have increased by about 25% in the past seven years. 

And low wages often complicate district efforts to draw teachers and keep them. Many districts have seen significant declines in the number of applications they receive for vacant positions and struggle to keep teachers in their classrooms long term. The deep chasm between wages also signals what some longtime educators see as an underlying sense of apathy across the country.

“When a country doesn’t care about how their teachers are paid, it shows the kind of attitude about its future generation for the nation,” said Jingzi Huang, school director for the School of Teacher Education and associate dean for the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado.


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