Hurdle rises for in-state students as colleges court out-of-staters
With less state money coming in, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh are bolstering their budgets by enrolling out-of-state students who pay higher tuition.
School records show the ratio of out-of-state freshmen at the universities' main campuses increased over the past decade, from 37 percent to 40 percent at Penn State and from 17 percent to 35 percent at Pitt. That coincides with a 27 percent reduction in subsidies for Pennsylvania's four state-related universities — Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln — since 2001-02.
Out-of-state students pay full tuition and fees; the state subsidizes resident tuition at the schools.
The difference, according to forms the universities submit to the U.S. Department of Education, is stunning: $24,680 a year for out-of-state undergraduate tuition at Pitt, compared to $15,272 for Pennsylvania residents; at Penn State, $27,206 for out-of-state students, compared to $15,124 for residents.
Julia Gitelman, a Mt. Lebanon senior with a 4.0 grade average and 1,970 SAT score, said Pitt disappointed her by deferring her application. The school asked for an additional reference and to inspect her most recent grades. She said Pitt rejected one of her friends and referred another to a branch campus.
"I applied in early November. Both of my parents are Pitt alumni. I have aunts and uncles who went to Pitt," said Gitelman. "Pitt was my first choice."
University spokesmen insist residency plays no role in admissions.
"Admissions are based upon the academic profile and credentials of the student. There are no quotas or caps based on the residency of the student," Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
She said 21,000 out-of-state students applied to attend at University Park in 2011, compared to 16,000 Pennsylvanians.
At Pitt, where the number of applications increased from 20,639, in 2008 to 23,409 in 2011, officials tout the university's standards.
"The increase in out-of-state enrollment is attributable to Pitt's growing national and international reputation and to our aggressive pursuit of high-quality students nationally and internationally," spokesman John Fedele said.
Benjamin Rush, a senior from Cincinnati, said that's what drew him to Pitt, where he majors in economics and urban studies.
"I've been involved with the Honors College. I really enjoyed it," Rush said.
Crunch for students
Tara Leja, a guidance counselor at Mt. Lebanon High School, noticed Pitt raised the bar for admission about four years ago.
"I used to be able to say, 'If you have a 3.6 (grade average), you're on track to get into Pitt.' Now I tell them they need at least a 3.8, and in 2011 we had a student with a 4.1 and a 1,600 on his SAT denied at Pitt," she said.
It couldn't come at a worse time for students who want to hold down college costs.
"The economy is a huge factor in these decisions now, and you can see the kids wanting to stay in-state and save the big bucks for later on for med school or graduate school," Leja said.
In his budget address to lawmakers in February, Gov. Tom Corbett proposed reducing state subsidies to the universities by 30 percent next year. Penn State's state subsidy would decrease from $227.7 million to $163.5 million; Pitt's would slide from $136.1 million to $95.2 million.
"Pitt and Penn State began as schools committed to the education of Pennsylvania's young people. That's why, since 1999, our taxpayers gave those schools a combined $5.7 billion in subsidies. It is unfortunate that this sense of mission has diminished now that Pennsylvania taxpayers are financially strapped," said Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley.
Though out-of-state freshman enrollment increased at the main campuses of Pitt and Penn State, it declined from 34 percent to 22 percent at Temple and held stable at Lincoln, rising from 24 percent to 26 percent over the decade. The two universities are located in the Philadelphia area.
At Penn State, 7,259 Pennsylvania freshmen enrolled at the school's 19 branch campuses last fall, where out-of-state enrollment was 16 percent. Total branch campus freshman enrollment of 8,675 exceeded University Park freshman enrollment of 7,346.
At Pitt , 3,757 freshmen enrolled at the Oakland campus, and 1,719 enrolled at four branches. Out-of-state enrollment at the branch campuses totaled 7.5 percent.
Colleges in between
Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, a Washington-based organization of college presidents and chancellors, said public universities in California, Arizona and Colorado recruit outside of state boundaries.
"There is a strong argument that says state funding reductions have forced this kind of change. ... I think it is a clever way of fulfilling your fundamental mission in an environment in which you are facing the potential of reducing enrollment because of state cuts," Broad said.
Schools find benefits to increasing out-of-state enrollment, said Michael Tanner, vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Public Land Grant Universities, a national organization of flagship schools.
"It enhances the educational experience for students to be exposed to people from other places. But you have to be careful because at some point, the access to public universities becomes pinched," Tanner said.
Broad said Pennsylvania schools might consciously recruit out of state because Pennsylvania's population of traditional college students is declining. Census 2010 figures showed 737,095 youths ages 10 to 14 in Pennsylvania, compared to 964,981 residents ages 20 to 24.
Powers said Penn State calculates the pool of traditional high school graduates declined by as much as 20 percent in some parts of Pennsylvania.