There are only so many seats in research university classrooms, and they are increasingly going to those who can pay.
In a paper presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, higher education professors Bradley Curs and Ozan Jaquette find that increased enrollment of out-of-state students at public research universities – often done to generate increased tuition revenue  in the face of decreased state appropriations – is taking a toll on racial and socioeconomic diversity at the institutions.
Curs and Jaquette compared IPEDS data on out-of-state undergraduate enrollment at four-year public universities against 12 years of data on Pell grant recipients (1999-2011) and nine years of data on underrepresented minorities, collected every other year between 1993 and 2011.
The paper’s authors found that the relationship between increases in the proportion of out-of-state students and decreases in the proportion of low-income and underrepresented minority students was stronger at public research and doctoral universities than at public master’s and bachelor’s institutions.
The paper builds on a previous paper by the two that found that declines in state financial support led to increases in the number of out-of-state students at public research universities, a trend that has been widely documented.
“Therefore, declines in state financial support may negatively affect the state policy goals of socioeconomic and racial diversity through their effects on non-resident enrollment,” the paper’s authors wrote. “Therefore, declines in state support compel public universities act against state interests of educating resident students.”
The paper’s authors say the finding has significance for state policy makers. “States seeking to increase socioeconomic and racial diversity should increase state support to higher education,” they write in their paper. “Because increased financial support is not feasible for many states, caps on non-resident enrollments may be a means of retaining socioeconomic and racial diversity.”
While most public research university presidents would love to see increased state appropriations, few seem likely to support the recommendation that institutions cap their out-of-state recruitment. In recent years, administrators have argued that given the decreases in state funding and market and political pressure on resident tuition prices, growing out-of-state enrollment is one of the few strategies they have for growing revenue and maintaining institutional quality.
In a survey of college and university business officers  conducted by Inside Higher Ed last year, 73 percent of public doctoral university business officers said recruiting more out-of-state students will be very important to their institutions' ability to raise new revenues in the next two or three years. In addition, 68 percent said recruiting international students was very important.
University of California administrators have said repeatedly that they continue to enroll only the number of in-state students for which they receive funding. “We have the capacity to educate many more students at our campuses,” Kate Jeffery, UC’s interim director of undergraduate admissions, told the Los Angeles Times last year . “What we don’t have is the funding to admit more California students. Nonetheless, we continue to honor the California Master Plan, finding a space at one of our campuses for all students who qualify for guaranteed admission.”
Previous studies have tied decreased state appropriations for higher education to several causes of decreased minority and low-income enrollment, such as increased sticker prices and actual prices and decreased state grant aid, all of which make college attendance more difficult for low-income students.
Because at least part of the goal of out-of-state recruitment for many public universities is increasing revenues, and because out-of-state tuition prices are higher than in-state tuition prices, non-resident students tend to be more affluent, the report's authors note. Those students are also more likely to be white.
The paper’s authors cite several examples of racial and economic diversity declining as out-of-state enrollment increased:
- University of California at Berkeley: Resident student enrollment decreased from 3,813 in 2008 to 3,004 in 2010. Non-resident freshman enrollments rose from 654 in 2009 to 1,105 in 2011. Black freshman enrollment decreased from 146 to 82. Hispanic freshman enrollment decreased from 450 to 426.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Non-resident freshman enrollment increased from 820 in 2007 to 1,308 in 2009. Over that same time period, the number of black freshman decreased from 561 to 523 and the number of Hispanic freshman decreased from 622 to 501.
- University of Wisconsin at Madison: Non-resident freshman enrollments increased from 2,319 in 2009 to 2,448 in 2011. Over that same time period, the number of black freshman decreased from 133 to 120 and the number of Hispanic freshman decreased from 246 to 226.
Finding examples of institutions where the percentage of low-income students dropped over the same time period is made difficult by a change to the Pell program in 2009. The Obama administration greatly expanded the program, and the percentage of college students nationwide who received the grant rose from 33 percent in 2009 to 44 percent in 2011. Some institutions might have seen an increase in the number of Pell-eligible students despite admitting the same profile.
Administrators at the University of California at Los Angeles are proud of the fact that they have raised the percentage of the student body that received Pell Grants while they have grown out-of-state enrollment. Between 2008 and the current school year, the proportion of out-of-state students grew from about 7 percent to about 15 percent, including a tripling of the number of international students. While that led to an overall decline in the number of in-state undergraduate students enrolled at the university – from 24,548 in 2008 to 23,821 – the proportion of Pell-eligible students increased from 35 percent to 39 percent.