State Schools Should Serve State Students

| by Nik Bonopartis
Students relax on a college campus greenStudents relax on a college campus green

You'd expect to find New Yorkers at SUNY and CUNY schools, Pennsylvanians at Penn State, and Texans at the University of Texas.

After all, state universities are intended to provide excellent educations to local students at reasonable tuition rates, at least compared to the outrageously inflated costs of private schools, where it's not unusual to charge more than $60,000 a year for tuition and housing.

But more state schools are increasing the number of out-of-state students they accept and lowering standards for those students, according to research by a team at the University of Arizona. The team looked at 25 top state institutions, deemed "flagship" schools in their respective state systems, and found that out-of-state students now account for 40 percent of incoming freshmen.

For context, less than 10 percent of freshmen are out-of-staters at the majority of state universities, according to

Why the trend toward out-of-state students? The universities need cash.

As the New York Times notes, universities charge about three times as much for students who hail from different states. That didn't matter much to universities during the halcyon days of the late 90s when the stock market was booming, or the early aughts when they were still well-funded by their respective state governments.

But the recession of the late 2000s hit state governments especially hard, and one of the unfortunate results is that lawmakers in most states significantly scaled back funding for higher education.

Unfortunately, the people who suffer most are the ones who can least afford it, according to the Times. The more spots are opened to higher-paying out-of-state students, the fewer spots there are for poor and minority students, those state universities are intended to help.

The University of Alabama is emblematic of the out-of-state trend, according to a story in the Washington Post. In 2004, 72 percent of incoming freshmen were Alabamians. By 2014, only 36 percent of the school's freshmen were from the state.

Marguerite Roza, director of Georgetown University's Edunomics Lab and a research professor who studies education finance, told the Post, “People inside states believe that they have greater access to their state universities.” She added that many students now are asking, “who does that public university belong to anymore? And what is it doing? Is it seeking ‘elite’ status? That’s great, but not if your own kids can’t go there.”

Finding money is never easy in state government, especially when large chunks of state budgets are already spoken for by things like pensions and healthcare for state employees, expenditures that cannot be cut.

Yet state leaders have a responsibility to make sure their universities fulfill their missions and provide solid, affordable educations to people living in those states.

There are no easy solutions, something Public Policy Institute of California senior fellow Hans Johnson acknowledges in a Times editorial. The obvious answer is to compensate for decreased funding by raising tuition, but that defeats the purpose, so any tuition increases have to be counterbalanced by grants and scholarships for local kids who can't afford tuition hikes.

Another possible solution is a tiered tuition system that would subsidize lower-income students by hiking tuition for those who can afford it, a method Roza supports. Roza also proposes discounts for students "who pursue degrees that are more important to the state’s public or economic needs."

The trend toward admitting more out-of-state students is worrying. In the words of the New America Foundation's Kevin Carey, we're seeing “the creeping privatization of elite public universities.”

It won't be easy, but elected leaders need to lead the charge to take those universities back.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The New York Times (2) (3) (4), The Washington Post, CollegeExpress, / Photo credit: Texas A&M via TheCollegeHelper

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