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In her 18 years as a counselor at California high schools, Kirsten Barnes has seen hundreds of seniors apply for college. But few were as qualified as this one.
The student’s grade-point average was near perfect.She took the maximum number of advanced-placement classes. She had joined extracurricular clubs, and was in the National Honor Society.
But the University of California at Berkeley, her first choice, turned her down.
“I thought, ‘Wow, a couple of years ago, she would’ve gotten in,’” said Barnes, who works at Hanford West, a Central Valley high school.
Barnes and other counselors have seen the public University of California system steadily increase their enrollments of out-of-state and international students they accept. Coveted for the higher tuition they pay, the number of nonresident students enrolled at the University of California’s 10 campuses rose from 22,984 to 31,991 between 2009 and 2012, an increase of nearly 33 percent, UC figures show.
During the same period, the number of in-state students has fallen from 199,431 to 196,917, a decline of 1.3 percent.
Facing the double whammy of reduced state funding and flat tuition, public colleges and universities nationwide are pursuing an obvious source of income: out-of-state and international students who are not eligible for in-state tuition subsidies.
After all, resident students paid an average of $8,893 for tuition and fees at public, four-year institutions nationwide this year, while out-of-state students paid $22,203, according to the College Board.
“You’re basically auctioning off spaces for people with more money,” said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a California-based think tank. “In-state students have less of a shot at public universities … (and) this sends the wrong message to kids and parents who want to believe they can compete and excel.”
Berkeley gets $120 million of its $2.35 billion in annual revenue from nonresident students. In April, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced that it would boost enrollment of nonresidents still more, to 23 percent from 20 percent over the next three years.
That means next year adding another 100 out-of-state students, who will bring in $2.2 million more in revenue than in-state students would.
After years of state budget cuts, “tuition from out-of-state and international students is crucial,” Dirks said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the number of California residents enrolling at Berkeley continues to shrink, falling from 3,822 in 2006 to 3,091 in 2013, according to UC figures.
International students have become so important to the bottom line that the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, last year voted to let universities and colleges pay commissions to recruiters who bring in international students — despite the fact that paying commissions for domestic students is banned.
The proportion of students from out of state is highest at such large public universities as the University of Virginia, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where nonresidents make up 30 percent or more of enrollment, according to the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
At the the University of Colorado at Boulder, the mix of in-state and out-of-state students is dictated by state law, which says that at least 55 percent of the student body should be composed of Colorado residents, said Kevin MacLennan, director of admissions. Since 1992, when that law was passed, McLennan said, the university has been able to offer admission to every qualified Colorado resident who applies.
At the University of Michigan, “All admissions decisions … are based on the imperative to enroll the best possible incoming class each and every year,” said spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said the percentage of nonresident students has not varied much in the last four years, going from 40.1 percent to 41.2 percent.
MacLennan and Fitzgerald both blamed the increased proportion of out-of-state students partly on the fact that the number of high school graduates in their respective states is falling. “We look at all options to respond to these changes,” Fitzgerald said.
But money is a part of it, too, MacLennan said. He said his university has pushed to increase the proportion of international students among the out-of-state population in the last three years or so “for geographic diversity and due to the revenue piece.”
The University of Virginia did not respond to requests for comment on this topic.
Pushback is looming, said Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and an economist at Ohio University. “All of these schools have political pressure to make room for domestic students,” he said.
In fact, the idea that out-of-state students are taking spots from in-state ones is “more of a perception than a reality,” said Daniel Hurley, associate vice president for government relations and state policy at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Hurley said the only place this may be happening is at “more select, public research universities,” where the competition for admission has become particularly fierce.
University officials also say there’s a lack of data to show definitively that one group has been displacing the other.
But research released last year by professors Bradley Curs and Ozan Jaquette of the universities of Missouri and Arizona, respectively, found that increases in the number of nonresident students at flagship public universities led to decreases in the number of low-income and minority students.
As nonresident enrollment at Berkeley rose, for instance, the number of black and Hispanic freshmen fell, the research showed. The same thing happened at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The study didn’t directly address whether all in-state students are being crowded out. But it stands to reason that “public universities with selective admissions and targeted enrollment that are pursuing out-of-state students are doing so at the expense of in-state students,” said Curs.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Anne De Luca, associate vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment at UC Berkeley.
“We strive to preserve access and maintain excellence in the undergraduate experience, and pull a number of levers to make this happen,” she said, “one of them being nonresident tuition from out-of-state students.”