As public higher education’s state money stagnates, competition for students becomes more intense.
Five South Dakota universities are offering freshmen and transfer students from Nebraska resident tuition beginning in the fall.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney will do the same next school year for Coloradans and Kansans.
Picking off students from neighboring states may become vital to universities as they strive to fill classrooms, balance budgets and expand programs. And for the short term, at least, the pool of new high school graduates won’t grow a great deal.
“This certainly is a trend,” said Thomas Harnisch of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Enrollment “will be a challenge with the confluence of stagnant or declining state funding and population decline. This is not an issue that is expected to go away anytime soon.”
Kaitlyn Tennant of Thornton, Colorado, didn’t expect much from Peru State College when she and twin sister Josephine visited campus four years ago. It was Nebraska, they thought, surely just boring prairie.
But driving onto campus, they fell for the hills, woods and old buildings. This was a place they could make home, and they did.
An added benefit was Peru State’s “One Rate, Any State” tuition plan, which is exactly what it says — out-of-staters pay in-state tuition.
“We love Peru. It’s been a great place for us,” said Kaitlyn, who will graduate in May. She’s doing her student teaching at Calvert Elementary School in nearby Auburn, Nebraska.
Peru State has had the One Rate, Any State tuition program since 2009.
A regional program called the Midwest Student Exchange Program for close to 25 years has promoted nonresident tuition of no more than 150 percent of resident tuition among participating public colleges in 10 states. Many Nebraska institutions participate.
Colleges such as Wayne State and Northwest Missouri State provide deep discounts to nonresident students with adequate records.
But some schools are beginning to give deeper discounts — resident tuition — to all out-of-state students who simply meet admission requirements. UNK will do so in the fall for Coloradans and Kansans.
Ed Scantling, UNK’s associate vice chancellor for enrollment management, said student recruitment from Colorado and Kansas has dropped considerably since 2012. In the fall of 2012, for instance, UNK had 144 undergraduate students from Colorado. Last fall it had 69.
Furthermore, UNK’s overall enrollment last fall dropped 2.1 percent from 6,788 to 6,644. Scantling said the number of high school graduates from central Nebraska, UNK’s recruitment wheelhouse, is flat or declining.
Because enrollment is vital to a university’s budget, NU President Hank Bounds “encouraged us to be bold and to look at doing things in an innovative way,” Scantling said.
“We felt we have to reach a little further to find kids,” Scantling said. “Early indications, particularly from Colorado, are really good.” Visits from Colorado high school students are way up, and applications from Coloradans are up about 20 percent, he said.
The UNK football team likes the plan, too, because walk-ons from Colorado and Kansas are lured by lower tuition.
At UNK this school year, nonresident undergraduate tuition is about $418 per credit hour and resident tuition about $192 per credit hour. So a full load of 30 credit hours over two semesters would cost a nonresident $6,780 more than a resident, and that would be the annual savings for Kansans and Coloradans.
In South Dakota, first-time freshmen and transfers from Nebraska attending five schools — South Dakota State, South Dakota, Dakota State, Northern State and South Dakota School of Mines — will receive resident tuition in 2018-19.
Under this arrangement, based on 2017-18 tuition and fee rates, it would be a couple of hundred dollars cheaper over two semesters for a Nebraskan to go to the University of South Dakota than to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Tuition and fees, of course, are only one factor in the cost of attendance. The University of South Dakota’s room and board rates in many cases are $2,500 less than UNL’s per year.
Brian Shanks, associate director of housing at UNL, said it’s hard to compare various meal plans, room packages, campus opportunities and security measures.
“We have a lot of new buildings,” he said of UNL’s residence halls. “It makes a big difference when you invest into your facilities and comfort.”
Michael Rush, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents, said his schools could add students without additional instructors or buildings.
“South Dakota has some excess capacity in its higher education system,” he said.
The strategy is more common now, but it isn’t universal. UNL is among many institutions that haven’t dropped nonresident tuition to resident levels.
Amber Williams, an assistant vice chancellor at UNL, said competition for students is steep. Nevertheless, many large flagship universities haven’t drastically lowered out-of-state tuition, Williams said.
UNL would rather recruit out-of-state students with scholarship packages, attracting students who will be prepared, lend geographic diversity to UNL and graduate on time, she said.
“We try to look at each student individually and look beyond the numbers,” she said.
Iowa doesn’t participate in the Midwest Student Exchange Program. But the University of Nebraska at Omaha since 2008 has offered Iowans from three western Iowa counties (and eight more counties since 2012) 150 percent of resident tuition.
That way, UNO’s Omar Correa said, the institution remains affordable to students in western Iowa. With the discount, UNO’s tuition is still somewhat more expensive to western Iowans than Iowa State’s.
Chadron State offers the Eagle Rate to non-Nebraskans, which is in-state tuition plus $1 per credit hour.
Giving all nonresident students big tuition discounts isn’t always popular. In-state tuition typically doesn’t cover the cost of a college education, the AASCU’s Harnisch said, and that’s one reason that states subsidize public higher education.
On the other hand, students who go to school away from their home state are more likely to remain in the state where they attend college and contribute to the workforce there.
Peru State’s Kaitlyn Tennant said coming to Nebraska was an excellent decision for her and her sister.
They matter here, she said. She runs cross country and is on the campus activities board. Josephine runs Love Your Melon, a program that provides stocking caps to children with cancer.
For the twin sisters, going small meant big opportunities. They might stick around.
Tuition deals for out-of-state students
» First-time freshmen and transfers from Nebraska attending South Dakota State, South Dakota, Dakota State, Northern State or South Dakota School of Mines will receive resident tuition in 2018-19.
» The University of Nebraska at Kearney is offering in-state tuition to Coloradans and Kansans next school year.
» Peru State has a “One Rate, Any State” tuition program, in which out-of-staters pay in-state tuition.
» The University of Nebraska at Omaha offers students from 11 western Iowa counties 150 percent of resident tuition.
» Colleges such as Wayne State and Northwest Missouri State provide deep discounts to nonresident students with adequate academic records.