It's a trend across the country: taxpayer-supported state colleges are going for the money, awarding coveted spots to out-of-state students who can be charged much higher tuition. The watchdogs at Boston's Pioneer Institute wondered if that means slots are going to less qualified students. Mary Connaughton tells what they discovered.
Mary Connaughton: We found that from 2010, the period that we asked for, through 2016, that in every case, out of state students were admitted on average with lower SAT scores and lower grade point averages from high school than in- state students. And what that does is: it infuriates parents.
Sharyl: Why do you suspect the trend of so many more out of state students?
Mary Connaughton: Well, there's a financial incentive to enroll out of state students. Out of state students, before considering any aid, a merit based aid or financial aid, for tuition fees, room and board, it's 48 thousand dollars, presently, for an out of state student versus 29 thousand for an in-state student. So, there's a huge financial incentive for this school to accept more and more out of state students.
Sharyl: Besides the school, which gets a lot more money, who benefits from this and who's hurt by it?
Mary Connaughton: Well, the out of state kids get access to great education at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, but in-state kids, when they're looking at trying to get the best education possible, and you look at private schools, tuition, now, could be 65, 70 thousand dollars, room and board, all in costs—That’s way out of reach for most families, here in the state.
Sharyl: To be clear, that's per year, not for the whole education?
Mary Connaughton: That's per year, and it's going up and up every year. It's frightening to parents.
Sharyl: Do you know, is this happening elsewhere?
Mary Connaughton: It's definitely a trend. More and more university systems are trying to get more and more out of state students in many cases. But other schools, other states, have caught on. They say, well, if we're getting kids from out of state, which is not necessarily a bad thing, they should have higher standards for out of state kids coming in than for in-state kids. Make it truly more competitive.
Sharyl: I think this is one of the things that makes a lot of people the maddest, the thought that their kid might not be able to get in to a school with the same or better scores and stats than other kids for reasons that don't seem to make sense.
Mary Connaughton: It infuriates parents. And I've spoken to parents whose children have been wait-listed, who've been honor students, and haven't been able to get in to UMass Amherst. They might be able to get in to another UMass school, but UMass Amherst is one that so many really want to get in to. It's infuriating.
Sharyl: University of Massachusetts Amherst says, "Creating a diverse educational environment that includes students from across the country and world is invaluable in preparing students to succeed in a highly competitive global economy and to nurture a civil society."
Mary Connaughton: Well, there might be some truth in that, but if you're the kid that has got ... You have better grades than the other students that they're bringing in, is that fair? Is that the right thing? Is that ... How is that going to help that particular student that gets shut out, and never gets to participate at UMass Amherst?
Sharyl: Do you think schools that take money from the state and from taxpayers have a different obligation than schools that, maybe, don't take taxpayer money?
Mary Connaughton: That raises the whole question of, what is the role of a public university within a state? Is it to educate kids from other states, or is it to give a quality alternative to private school for in-state kids? And I would say it's to give a quality education to in-state kids whose parents have been paying their taxes and helped subsidizing the school.
UMass Amherst also told us the money they've gotten by admitting more higher tuition out-of-state students has allowed them to invest in quality, which is reflected in a sharp increase in graduation rates, retention rates, and rankings.