Out-of-state enrollment linked to decreased diversity

August 23, 2013
  • AACRAO Connect
  • Diversity and Inclusion

It's widely known that public universities view out-of-state students as a vital source of revenue for the facilities and services they provide for in-state students at a relatively low cost. What's less widely known is that this very dynamic may be homogenizing the student body.

Inside Higher Ed reports that a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in April finds links between increased enrollment of out-of-state students at public research universities and decreased racial and socioeconomic diversity.

The authors of the paper, higher education professors Bradley Curs and Ozan Jaquette, found that the relationship was stronger at public research and doctoral universities than at public master’s and bachelor’s institutions.

The authors present evidence of a decline in low-income and minority students and an increase in out-of-state students at the University of California, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois. Non-resident students who can afford out-of-state tuition are more likely to be affluent and white.  The paper’s authors conclude: “States seeking to increase socioeconomic and racial diversity should increase state support to higher education,” they write in their paper. “Because increased financial support is not feasible for many states, caps on non-resident enrollments may be a means of retaining socioeconomic and racial diversity.”

But many observers fear such caps aren’t realistic.


What's driving the push for out-of-state students?

To understand why public universities are increasingly resorting to out-of-state students, it’s necessary to consider broader trends in financing public higher education across the nation.

The financial crisis and the recession have contributed to tight state budgets have cut back spending on services across the board, and higher education funding has consistently been on the chopping block. But state funding has been on the decline for much longer than the recent dip in the economy.

Last year The New York Times reported that states have been engaged in a “25-year withdrawal from higher education. During and immediately after the last few recessions, states slashed financing for colleges. Then when the economy recovered, most states never fully restored the money that had been cut. The recent recession has amplified the problem.”

According to a report from the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, state appropriations for colleges fell by 7.6 percent in 2011-12, the largest annual decline in at least five decades.

“There has been a shift from the belief that we as a nation benefit from higher education, to a belief that it’s the people receiving the education who primarily benefit and so they should foot the bill,” Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, told the Times.

Maintaining the mission

The basic irony that underlies the findings of Curs and Jaquette’s study is that the out-of-state population of a public universities are sought out primarily to control costs for in-state students. But when the quest for this revenue source goes too far, it causes the institution to veer from its public mission as qualified residents lose slots.

Daniel Fogel, then president of the University of Vermont, told Inside Higher Ed, "There is the risk of subtly and not so subtly undermining the public mission. Then you are like a private university that isn't at the top of the pecking order, looking for the sweet spot of the kids who are qualified to come and can pay all or most of the cost, and that's a pretty market-driven agenda."

Some observers are more sanguine, and have argued that tighter budgets do not necessarily have to come at the expense of maintaining diversity.

Stanley Henderson, Vice Chancellor for enrollment management and student life at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and a former AACRAO president, told AACRAO Connect: "Access to America's colleges and universities will be one of the great challenges that we face in the next 10 years because without a fully representative student body, academic excellence cannot be maintained. If a university values a diverse student body, it needs to make that a priority."

"At the University of Michigan-Dearborn we have seen an increase of more than 50% in African-American undergraduates in the last eight years--in spite of a state-passed ban on affirmative action. We created an Opportunity Scholarship program targeted to all students in low socio-economic school districts--acceptable under the affirmative action ban, but still reaching underrepresented students. Where there's a value, there's a way."

By: AACRAO Connect

AACRAO Connect