The Out-of-State Solution to College Budgets

Ann McClure's picture

Colorado Mesa University was typical of most public institutions in the fall of 2007, with out-of-state students making up a small number, about 5 percent, of the overall student body. But when the economic downturn hit in the fall of 2008, and state support for higher education began dwindling, Colorado Mesa President Tim Foster knew it was time to shake up the status quo. He decided to aggressively recruit out-of-state students, who pay 50 percent to 60 percent more than do Colorado residents. “Obviously the purchasing power of in-state students from a budgetary perspective was not very good,” Foster says.

The school embedded a recruiter in California and sent additional admissions representatives to such key Western feeder states as Wyoming and Utah. The school even targeted Hawaii.

The work has paid off: This fall, out-of-state students make up 12 percent of Colorado Mesa University’s overall student body, bringing in about $3 million to $5 million in additional revenue annually. Foster’s goal is see nonresident enrollment reach 25 percent in five years. “If we can continue to grow—but grow out-of-state faster—that will work well for us,” he says.

Colorado Mesa University’s tactics are not unusual. To counter state budget cuts, public universities from California to Ohio are courting out-of-state students and the tuition premiums they pay. To attract these students, institutions are using sophisticated recruiting techniques, embedding recruiters in feeder states, ramping up advertising campaigns, and even giving students breaks on out-of-state fees. Recruiting of nonresidents is likely to grow in the next few years as budget slashing increases. At least 25 states have made substantial cuts in funding for state colleges and universities this fall—reductions that will have a direct impact on students, according to the latest report from the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

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