Are universities selling local students short in order to bring in more money?
Imagine you have a couple of tickets spare for the Super Bowl. You’ve got an important business trip, and your boss won’t let you skip it. As a result, there’s no way you can make it to the game.
So what do you do? You’ve got to sell your tickets right? It’s no big deal – just put the tickets on resale and sell to the highest bidder. Money talks, right? And you may as we’ll make as much cash from the sale as possible, after all you know that a pair of tickets to the Super Bowl is a pretty valuable commodity.
So is higher education. It is an incredibly valuable commodity. So perhaps it is no surprise that when universities are able to charge higher fees to some students than they do to others, people start to worry that those higher value students will become more attractive when handing out places.
In the UK, students from outside the European Union pay higher fees than those from within it. The result? People worry that students from places like India and China, which send thousands of people to study in the UK each year, might be given a place at the expense of a British, French or Dutch student.
International student numbers have risen by nearly 70 per cent over the past decade in England, increasing from 31,000 first-degree entrants in 2003-04 to 51,000 in 2013-14.
In the US, institutions charge students from outside their own state more than they do local residents, and there are concerns that a trend for institutions recruiting more out-of-state applicants might be more about cash than it is about fairness.
Here’s a graph from this Los Angeles Times article illustrating the growth in out-of-state students at the University of California.
It looks like the number of admissions rose roughly in line with the number of applications from out-of-state, and that those figures started to increase pretty rapidly in around 2011, after fairly steady growth in the previous six years.
As it happens, 2011 was the year the University of California adopted a policy of admitting more out-of-state students. Since 2011, the number of in-state students admitted to the state’s system has plateaued somewhat.
And California isn’t the only place it’s happening. This excellent analysis on The Atlantic gives lots of examples: The University of Nebraska—Lincoln last year increased its percentage of out-of-state students by 5.2 percent; out-of-state enrollment at the University of South Carolina more than doubled since 2000 (now at 45 per cent). Out-of-state students pay almost double ($32,762) for tuition and room and board than in-state students, the article points out.
However, I’m not here to analyse the figures – that’s already been done, in California at least. A 116-page state audit of admissions, released at the end of last month accused the University of California of “hurting local students by admitting too many out-of-state applicants to its campuses”.
“The university has undermined its commitment to residents in an effort to increase its revenue by recruiting and enrolling nonresidents,” the audit said.
It suggests there should be more focus on recruiting Californians — particularly African Americans, Latinos and other underrepresented minorities (this issue of increasing diversity is something I focused on in another LinkedIn blog, so I won’t go into it here).
For the record, the University of California President Janet Napolitano denounced the audit’s conclusions as “disappointingly pre-baked” and “unfair and unwarranted”, but it still raises some questions.
It speaks to two very emotive issues: profit and fairness. I know they are sensitive debates – an article I wrote earlier this year on how universities with large endowments might better share their wealth was read nearly 25,000 times, with 600 plus either commenting or “liking” it.
The thing is, although many universities do have plenty of money in the bank, many do not. And while in the UK the burden of funding higher education has been somewhat shifted from the state to the student via a series of tuition fee hikes since 1998, the US is still waiting for state higher education funding to return to pre-recession levels (despite some encouraging signs this year).
In short, institutions want to maintain their income levels, and one of the most obvious way to do this is to take on the most profitable students. This is pretty straight forward when you are looking at a profit and loss assessment, but becomes far more sensitive when you are dealing with human ability.
What happens when the more profitable student is marginally less qualified than the one who will bring in less cash, for example? Might universities decide to recruit the former?
It is hard to pin down clear examples of where this is happening, since the assessment of ability is such a difficult beast. How do you compare, for example, the ability of an affluent, privately-educated freshman to that of someone with a less advantaged background?
I wrote an article for Times Higher Education last year that illustrates some of the concerns that lecturers have with overseas students (most notably language proficiency), and there is some logic in the argument that when a state university system increase the number of out-of-state students, there will be fewer places for local kids.
The solution is, arguably, quite easy to write down, but virtually impossible to implement. Universities should of course seek to admit in-state students, particularly those who might not be able to afford to go out of state but who have the talent and ability to study at a higher level. This will require bursaries and grants for the less well-off, funded by…well there’s the tricky bit. Higher fees for the rich? More cash from the government (state or national)? Savings made elsewhere in the universities? Who knows.
One thing is for sure: international students and out-of-state students bring money to universities (and much more besides – read this excellent post by the head of one of the UK’s top universities, where 46 per cent of teaching income comes from international students).
Might it be possible to find a balance whereby the money brought in by students from further afield can be used to ensure that local students get a fair crack of the whip too? Many institutions would argue that they are already doing this, but perhaps it could be done more effectively.
Now, back to your spare Super Bowl tickets. Would you give them to your football-mad neighbour free of charge and wish her a good day out, rather than netting a quick buck (or thousand bucks) elsewhere?
It’s just possible that if you have a big house to maintain, the money you have coming in from other sources is being squeezed, and there’s a buyer with plenty of money in the bank ready to do a deal, you might think twice. Even if it means souring your relationship with your neighbour.
Contact John Assunto for all of your Education Recruiting needs! Johna@worldbridgepartners.com or 860-387-0503