Colleges shouldn’t sacrifice in-state enrollment for rankings prizefight

Though attending college in state is generally thought of as the more affordable option for students, a new report found many public colleges are foregoing affordability for prestige and recognition.

As revealed in a recent study conducted by the New America Foundation that examined 424 public four-year colleges and universities, public schools that offer substantial merit aid enroll more out-of-state students and have seen a bigger fall in enrollment of in-state freshman since 2000 than those that offer less merit aid. Schools have used that merit aid to bring in more out-of-state students rather than in-state students who are more financially needy.   

While this is great news for out-of-state students, especially affluent ones, it’s a huge let-down for in-state students and shows that many colleges don’t have their nearby college-bound population in mind. 

A recent New York Times article addressed a similar trend in which universities admit more out-of-state students in favor of those applying in-state as an alternative to hiking tuition, since out-of-state tuition is on par with private school tuition. 

As the New America study found, one of the main reasons for recruiting more out-of-state students is so colleges can improve their rankings and enhance test scores. As pointed out by Inside Higher Education, it’s tempting for colleges to follow suit because not doing so would mean backing out of competition with other schools. 

Yet, while there’s nothing wrong with a little competition — after all, that can help attract students in the first place — it’s not a priority. What should be a priority is reining in the students whose best option is to stay near home and offer them an affordable education. 

Still, using institutional money to bait out-of-state students doesn’t mean college will be cheaper for them given their extra costs, as mentioned in a USA Today article. However, low-income students attending a school at home, particularly one that provides substantial merit aid, shouldn’t have to pay more out of pocket than those attending schools offering less merit aid, another problem noted by New America. 

According to the study, major research universities and state regional universities are both at fault. In the state, New College of Florida and Florida International University made the list of the top 50 schools offering merit aid to freshman not considered financially needy. 

To combat the problem of affordability for in-state students that many schools have put themselves in, colleges should monitor the amount of out-of-state students they accept. 

For instance, the University of South Carolina’s out-of-state enrollment has risen to 45 percent, over twice the amount it was in 2000, as pointed out in the report. Some schools have caps on out-of-state enrollment, such as the University of North Carolina, which cannot admit more than 18 percent, according to Inside Higher Ed. As reported by the College Board, USF’s out-of-state enrollment is at 6 percent. 

While a good ranking is much like a prize for colleges, the nearby students whose best option is public colleges shouldn’t be the first to be thrown off board. 

Isabelle Cavazos is a senior majoring in English and Spanish.