It’s been six years since one of the worst recessions in American history officially ended and all but two states are still spending less per student on higher education than they did before the markets tanked almost a decade ago. How much states allocate to finance public colleges and universities has real-life implications for students, who, many researchers say, end up spending more of their money or borrow larger amounts to bankroll a bachelor’s degree as states contribute less.
But it’s not just students feeling the pinch; colleges themselves are in an ever-increasing battle to attract relatively wealthy students who can afford to pay more of those higher tuition rates than lower-income students who might need grants from the university in order to attend. Students from out-of-state are especially coveted, because state universities typically charge higher tuition rates to students who went to high schools in a different state. The quest for students who can pay more has dramatically altered the student composition at some flagship public universities. At the University of California system, for example, roughly 15,000 of the 90,000 incoming freshmen in 2015 were out-of-state students, and another 15,000 were considered international. In the past decade, state resident enrollment grew by 10 percent while enrollment of students from outside the state surged by 432 percent.
This week a sharply worded audit of the University California system criticized it for its dependence on out-of-state students, and stated these students faced lower admissions standards while many in-state students were denied admission to their preferred campus. The Los Angeles Times quoted UC President Janet Napolitano as saying the report didn’t fairly take into account the recession-era cuts to the UC budget. Though there actually has been some research about the preferences non-resident students have for public universities, far less is known about the effects enrolling more of these students can have on college demographics, for example whether fewer lower-income, black and Latino students from within the state are enrolled when states pursue more students from outside the state.