EDITORIAL: They’re public universities

November 29, 2014

No one will win the desperate arms race for out-of-state students waged among public universities, including those in Indiana. Targeted interstate student swapping—attractive to colleges because of the higher tuition they can charge non-residents—serves no one in the long run. And those who suffer the most are tax-paying students and parents.

IBJ reporter J.K. Wall has a Focus story on p. 15 showing the extent to which Purdue University and other Indiana colleges have increased recruitment of out-of-state and international students. Purdue’s fall 2014 incoming freshman class was 48 percent non-resident, a 40-percent increase over the past seven years. Indiana University’s Bloomington campus had a record-high 43.5 percent of incoming freshmen coming from out of state this fall.

Public colleges from coast to coast are under pressure to replace state support that’s been waning for decades, a trend that accelerated at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007. State financing since then has declined an average of 25 percent. It’s no surprise that many schools—with flagship state universities leading the charge—have hit on the idea of attracting more non-resident students; they pay 1-1/2 to three times what in-state students do for tuition and fees.

A Wall Street Journal analysis two years ago of 559 public four-year colleges showed 89 had decreased in-state incoming freshmen enrollment while increasing that of non-resident freshmen. And the trend has picked up steam since. So much so that some students feel boxed out of slots at schools in their home state.

Purdue has made the case that the strategy benefits not only its campus, but all Hoosiers. President Mitch Daniels has said out-of-state students “bring literally hundreds of millions of dollars to the state of Indiana’s economy.”

The problem is, college leaders nationwide tout the same benefit. University of Michigan’s then-president Mary Sue Coleman boasted in 2012 that non-resident students “come paying the full freight. They actually add tremendously to the economy in the state of Michigan.”

Where is all this extra money coming from? From the pockets of parents and students paying higher tuition to a college in another state while paying taxes to support the public colleges in their home states.

Students should not be discouraged from studying at any school that’s a good fit for them, no matter the locale. But this new cache attached to going out of state has been artificially induced through old-fashioned marketing by pumped-up recruiting staffs.

The core mission of a public university is to make affordable higher education available to the high school graduates of that state. Striving to be a destination school by maintaining a healthy mix of students from across the country and around the world benefits everyone, but tilting the balance away from primarily serving state taxpayers is counterproductive.

Legislators need to increase support for public colleges, and taxpayers need to elect and support those who do. Any other strategy fails everybody.•


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