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Out-of-State Public Universities–A Good Idea?

Today’s issue of Inside Higher Ed has an article about public universities eager to boost revenues–and head count–by recruiting out-of-state students.

Many public universities are facing deep budget cuts, and some are hoping to make up their revenue shortfalls by recruiting out-of-state students.   The article expresses many doubts that this will be a good strategy for most state universities.

One of the doubts–raised by me, as I was quoted in the article–is that most students from the west and south who desire to go out-of-state for college are looking at either the most prestigious and reputable public universities (Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina) or at the private colleges and universities.  Why, for example, would a qualified Colorado student choose the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (at out-of-state tuition prices) when he can go to the University of Colorado at Boulder?

I also pointed out that some public universities closer to home may be attractive to some students, especially if they offer generous scholarship programs.  The  University of Wyoming and Montana State University, for example, offer great packages to some students to attract them to their campuses.

But it seems unlikely that many state universities will be able to make significant increases in their out-of-state applicants.

With budgets being cut back, might it actually be time to reassess how  many university slots a state actually needs?  If there is more supply than demand, then why not cut back the supply to match that demand?

Or, might it  make more sense for a UMass-Amherst to put more energy into retaining and graduating students within six years?  For example, recent data suggest that only 84% of freshmen at UMass-Amherst return for their sophomore year.  If UMass could raise that to 93% (which is the first-year retention rate at University of Washington-Seattle), it would be able to make up a heck of a lot of revenue that way.

Similarly, only 68% of entering freshmen at UMass will graduate in six years.  If UMass could raise that rate to, say 78% (which is the six-year graduation rate at the University of Texas-Austin), the university would fill quite a few holes in its budget.

Sometimes the solution to a problem is closer at hand than we think.

Mark Montgomery
College Counselor

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