Part of a weeklong series on the impact of the economy on higher education
This week, Morning Edition studies The New College Math: families and students who are recalculating how much they can spend during a recession; colleges trying to fill seats; and an expansion in federal aid that could determine for some whether they attend college at all.
For decades, many public colleges and universities have marketed themselves as "diverse, national" institutions in an effort to entice the best and brightest.
The competition for these students has gotten so intense that a growing number of schools have cut or eliminated out-of-state tuition, which is often three to four times what residents pay.
For example, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which has been losing students in recent years, out-of-state students this fall will pay $5,700 in tuition — the same as students who live in Illinois. The new rate will save nonresidents about $10,000.
"It is about economics, in a sense, but it's also about having a mixture of students from all over the country, from all over the world," says SIU President Glenn Poshard.
But with the economy in a deep slump, eliminating out-of-state tuition could be a double-edged sword.
Last year, more than 100 public colleges and universities were members of regional agreements that eliminated or cut nonresident tuition. Students from Alabama and Georgia, for example, pay a lot less to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. And at California State University, East Bay, students from surrounding Western states also benefit from a cut in tuition.
Some say this means that California students are losing out. Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, says that most of the 23 Cal State campuses have seen a surge in out-of-state students. Cutting out-of-state tuition doesn't make sense for California right now, Taiz argues, because too many students within the state are being turned away — 10,000 this year, she says.
California has a budget deficit of more than $40 billion, and the state's colleges are facing unprecedented cuts. Taiz says that students in the state are getting bumped not only from four-year schools, but also from overcrowded community colleges.
"It's a really strange, perverse kind of policy when you have thousands and thousands of students in state who need the access and who, without the access, are really not going to help the state flourish," she says.
Legislators in other states are taking up these issues as well. In South Carolina and Virginia, lawmakers have tried — and so far, failed — to limit the number of nonresidents admitted to their flagship universities.