This article in Inside Higher Ed describes how the Colorado State University Board of Governors considered, ever so briefly, privatizing part of the university system to assure survival. The idea of public institutions doing something like this has been around for decades. The idea usually picks up some steam when we are in a fiscal decline and public funds become scarce. In this case, the idea was quickly rejected and described as hypothetical.
I empathize with the blight of the public university. While federal stimulus funds may be saving the day for the 2009-2010 academic year, and maybe even into 2010-2011, the 2011-2012 year seems to portend disaster. These institutions must do something different and, likely, dramatic.
But, I am concerned as the public universities consider their options. Let’s say the decision had been made to privatize. Would that not likely lead to fewer of Colorado’s young people having access to a public university education? Certainly that would be one scenario. That leads to another idea discussed by the Board of Governors: to limit admission for students who reside in the state, and to increase the number of students from out of state since they pay higher tuition and fees. That would require some level of policy change since current rules are that state funded schools must assure that 55 percent of their student body is comprised of in-state students.
It is not just Colorado that is wrestling with the budget challenges and arriving at the idea of increasing revenues by admitting non-resident students. Inside Higher Ed reports on a number of states either increasing non-resident numbers or considering doing so. A review of where most states are in terms of serving their residents through their public universities reveals that most schools are very reasonable and are fulfilling their missions to serve students from the state. This article cites the University of Vermont as an exception, with ¾ of its freshmen coming from outside Vermont. But, Vermont is an exception in that it is a blended institution—both private and (as they describe it) “quasi-public.” The University of Delaware is reported to have more than half its students coming from outside the state. I will simply note that both are small states.
Concerns about possible changes to place a preference on non-resident students are basically about equity of access. The concern is about state schools “enrolling wealthy white students.” Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, is quoted on the potential impact of such a move in California, “So, now that the majority of kids in the state will be more Latino, you are going to recruit more out-of-state students who are likely to be white?”
This equity concern is an important one. There is no question that public universities and their boards are going to faced with some tough decisions and some basic considerations about the appropriate mission of the public school. They would be wise to consider the cautions offered in the second article above about whether it will be an easy sell to out-of-state students. Once again, it will likely be only the elite publics that will find it possible to make the sale.
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Welcome to The Other 85 Percent. So what does "the other 85 percent" refer to? Research has shown that only about 15 percent of higher education students still fit the traditional definition of young adults age 18 to 22 who live on campus and go to school full time. more