State Colleges Seeking More Out-of-State, International Students Amid Fiscal Crunch

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by Helen Hu

Faced with budget cuts, some cash-strapped state universities are stepping up their recruitment of higher paying out-of-state undergraduates, a move that critics say is unfair to the states’ residents and could affect in-state minority applicants. The University of California system and the University of Washington in Seattle have openly declared their intention to boost their bottom lines with more out-of-state students, and admissions data for this fall reflect their efforts.

Other schools are probably making similar efforts, but, since it’s not a popular move, “it’s not something they would send out in a [news] release,” said Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

The monetary incentive is great. Out-of-state tuition can be several times that of in-state. At the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, for example, tuition and fees for 2011-12 are about $11,837 in-state, and $36,001 for out-of-state students.

“There are concerns that states are reneging on their promise—that states are inadvertently creating another roadblock for minority students,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The trend is recent, a result of the economic downturn, and “direct consequences are very difficult to quantify,” he said.

Universities may end up with the same number of minorities, but they’re not necessarily state residents or underprivileged, he said. The concern is “you get more affluent minorities,” he said.

State universities face varying regional, budgetary, and legislative conditions. But most are coping with growing pressure as more students want to go to college—seeing it as crucial to surviving a tough economy—and state lawmakers cut higher education funding. In 2010, state and local appropriations for higher education hit the lowest level in 25 years: $6,451 per full-time equivalent, according to State Higher Education Executive Officers, or SHEEO. The group blamed enrollment growth, inflation and the failure of state and local funding to keep up.

Apart from furloughs, layoffs, fat-trimming and dipping into reserves, state universities are turning to other remedies, including seeking more say in how they use their dollars, raising tuition—in some cases drastically—and bringing in more out-of-state students.

In California, educators are bracing for draconian state funding cuts, following several years of state budget turmoil. After three years of “wholesale” cutbacks, “the magic bullets have all been spent,” said UC system president Mark G. Yudof, adding that tuition is likely to rise again. In the state of Washington, higher education faced funding cuts of almost half a billion dollars over two years but won passage of a bill that paved the way for possible double-digit tuition increases.

The new law also reins in UW Seattle’s out-of-state admissions trend. The university enrolled 351 fewer in-state freshmen in 2010 compared with 2006, and 410 more nonresidents. UW will be required to enroll at least 4,000 in-state freshmen starting in the 2012-13 academic year.

Alarm over the out-of-state growth has escalated as competition has sharpened to get into many state schools, especially flagships. UC-Berkeley accepted only 21 percent of its applicants for the fall. Within the California State University system, there are campuses that accept one-tenth of their applicants, officials say.

“There’s some great students not able to get in due to space,” said Karl Smith, associate director of the office of admissions at UW Seattle, where the admissions rate fell from 68.8 percent in 2004 to 56.7 percent in 2010. “Most flagships are not designed to accommodate everyone,” but students can still get into great places, he said.

At the Seattle campus, the number of in-state minority acceptances has risen, while Whites have fallen. Offers to African-Americans rose from 210 in 2006 to 223 in 2010; American Indians, 92 to 135; Asian-Americans, 1,657 to 1,708; and Latinos, 371 to 453. Offers to Whites fell from 4,028 to 3,585. Meanwhile, offers to non-residents grew steadily, from 4,503 to 6,572.

For this fall, the University of California’s nine campuses offered admittance to 511 more in-state students than the previous year—but also 1,819 more out-of-state students and 1,773 more international students.

A UC panel recommended the system seek more out-of-state students, saying they offer a broader college experience and generate revenue without “unwanted displacement” of resident students. UC Berkeley accepted 9,303 residents for this fall, 156 fewer than last year. Out-of-state acceptances went up 535, and international, 230.

The school did well with in-state minority acceptances this year, “although we did have fears of gloom and doom,” said Walter Robinson, assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions at Berkeley.

The number of Black, Latino and American Indian applicants offered admission at Berkeley rose from 2,025 last year to 2,199 this fall. Typically, Berkeley gets relatively few minority applicants from out of state, Robinson said.

Some state universities have a tougher time competing for out-of-state students because their programs aren’t as prestigious. Schools in rural areas may not appeal to minorities, although they may want very much to recruit them.

In Colorado—acknowledged to have one of the poorest records for higher education funding—the University of Colorado Boulder has enrolled about 45 percent of its undergraduates from out of state for nearly 15 years.

In 2010, 19.2 percent of the new freshmen were minorities, with increases over the previous year in each ethnic group except African-Americans, which held steady.

The number of international students grew 20 percent. A recent law allows CU to bring in more of them. Colorado State University has chosen to grow in every sector, enrolling more in-state, out-of-state and foreign students. The out-of-state students help subsidize the in-state students, officials say. Nassirian believes that state schools should give priority to residents.

“There are families who have chipped in for decades to support these universities—given vastly more than out-of-staters,” he said. “I consider this one of the basic state services. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t think we don’t want a robust university system so, if all else fails, there’s a place [for residents] to go,” he said.

In-state students should be exposed to other people, he said. “What I object to is when the reason for having out-of-staters ceases to be educational and becomes purely financial.”

Could the out-of-state efforts squeeze out in-state minority applicants? “Not necessarily—but it could,” said Dr. Paul Lingenfelter, president of SHEEO. He acknowledged that some applicants might go to non-flagship state universities and community colleges, which also need to be adequately supported.

Dr. Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, said state residents should come first.

“State universities were built with public and tax dollars—and for Mexicans, Asian-Americans and all the others [in state]. Not to give them a priority, I think it’s outrageous,” said Mitchem, whose organization seeks to expand college opportunities for the disadvantaged. Along with proposals to cut Pell grants, he said, “it’s giving the back of the hand to minorities.”

With public universities getting less of their funding from the states, it’s hard to argue that their priority should be state residents, according to Dr. Carlos Santiago, chief executive officer of the Hispanic College Fund.

Santiago believes people don’t fault flagships such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison for aiming to become global institutions, with global impact. While serving as chancellor at UW-Milwaukee, he said he told legislators his school was a Wisconsin institution and deserved support as such.

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