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Should U-Va. Save More Spots For Virginians?

For as long as many students and alumni can recall, the University of Virginia and other top-flight state colleges have struggled to find the right mix of in-state and out-of-state students. Public colleges exist primarily to educate residents of the state that's paying for the school's existence, but out-of-state students add spice to the mix and, perhaps most important, provide a much-needed cushion to the bottom line (at UVa, for example, out of state students pay 150 percent of the cost of their education, a powerful subsidy for in-state students.)

Now comes a state delegate who wants to require Virginia universities to reserve 70 percent of their spaces for Virginians. For years, many parents have complained that their kids aren't getting into Virginia's top schools because slots are being taken up by those darned out-of-state geniuses. Del. Clay Athey (R-Front Royal) is proposing a bill in Richmond this month that would force all state colleges, but especially UVa, William & Mary and Virginia Tech, to keep their out-of-state populations down to 30 percent.

Athey claims that "Less than 50 percent of [the University of Virginia's] students are Virginia residents," in sharp contrast to, say, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where he says 90 percent of students are Virginians.

Athey is exactly right about VCU (90.4 percent in-state), but he's way off about UVa, where the latest state statistics show 67 percent of the 15,000 undergraduate students hail from Virginia.

Indeed, a look at the facts of in-state vs. out-of-state enrollment shows that Athey's bill, while sounding valiant and righteous, wouldn't actually change anything. That's because the schools he's targeting are already pretty much in compliance with his goal: Check it out for yourself with Virginia's Council of Higher Education enrollment tool: UVa--67 percent in-state; William & Mary, 68 percent in-state; Virginia Tech, 74 percent in-state.

Athey is right to call attention to the issue; indeed, the Charlottesville school has been slowly sliding in the wrong direction on this over the past decade, going from about 70 percent in-state enrollment in the years 2001 to 2005 to more like 67 percent in-state the past couple of years.

But the university is right to note that it has been hitting targets pretty close to Athey's goal. More important, UVa has an ever-greater need for out-of-state kids as the state has cut back on its financial support for universities. At UVa, state taxpayers now cover 14 percent of the academic budget--that's down from 33 percent ten years ago. Put it this way: The very same legislature that will now debate forcing the schools to admit more in-state candidates is the body that forced the universities to go fishing for more out-of-staters in the first place.

Are strong Virginia students being denied admission to UVa to make room for out-of-state kids? That argument, heard so often from parents, doesn't hold much water. Admissions is mainly a numbers game at large public universities, and to be sure, there's a larger supply of top-shelf students from all around the country than from Virginia alone. Overall, the out-of-state kids at Virginia colleges have a stronger academic profile than the Virginians.

But the schools exist mainly to educate Virginians, and as long as local tax dollars are paying a good chunk of the freight, preference should go to local kids. The colleges and the politician agree on that--and given the real numbers, rather than the hysterical figures Athey's throwing out there, any fair reading would conclude that the colleges are already doing what the delegate wants to codify in law.

By Marc Fisher |  January 6, 2009; 8:15 AM ET
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Virginia currently has one of the best state college networks in the country. I would hate to see the quality of these schools diminished because of short-sightedness within the state legislature. If the Commonwealth feels that UVA, VT, and W&M should educate more in-state students, the Commonwealth should fund those institutions appropriately.

I'd also like to add that UVA, VT, and W&M are not the only top-quality colleges in the state. And they aren't the only colleges with increasing admissions standards. Mason, Madison, Radford, etc are all more competitive.

Work hard in high school, play sports, contribute to your community, and you will find a college. At the end of the day, for >90% of the population, it's what you do while enrolled in college that matters, not which college received your tuition money.

Posted by: snarfsnarfsnarf | January 6, 2009 9:21 AM

You're right on this just being a case of making the status quo official, Marc. I went to W&M in the early 90's, and it was fairly common knowlege that 70% of the students "had to" be from Virginia.

And of course the out of state students have a higher have people from 49 states fighting for 30% of the slots in a freshman class, which as W&M is around 1250 students total. You can pick the best students then.

Posted by: argear | January 6, 2009 9:32 AM

As my username indicates, I'm a UVA alumnus. The out-of-staters are an important part of the student body and I'd hate to see them diminished. I believe current Virginia law mandates a 65%/35% in-state/out-of-state split, so a change to 70% would be rather silly.

I recall when UNC Chapel Hill was forced to go to 85%/15% by the North Carolina General Assembly. It hurt the school's academic reputation a bit, and it DEFINITELY hurt their finances (UNC is a bigger bargain for in-staters than Virginia's public universities are).

I do think it's funny that a lot of people don't realize that William & Mary is a public university. (Yes, it is legally a university; they just declined to use that word in their name.) My brother went to school there and said some out-of-state visitors assume it's a Catholic school because of "Mary" in the name!

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 6, 2009 9:39 AM

As a reference point, the North Carolina university system is required by its legislature to be at least 82% in-state. It makes the schools way harder to get into out-of-state than in-state, and tuition has increased quite a lot in recent years, but the universities maintain excellent standards and do a great service to the people of North Carolina.

Posted by: emilieemily | January 6, 2009 9:43 AM

The legislature might also want to keep in mind that many of the out-of-state students (such as myself) will end up staying in Virginia after completing college. There is a definite benefit to drawing the best and brightest from around the country into your state.

The Universities should calculate the cost of compliance in terms of lost out-of-state tuition dollars, and provide Mr Athey with an opportunity to increase the state funding to the schools by that amount or more.

Posted by: chris_wiz | January 6, 2009 9:49 AM

Part of the problem here is that UVA needs to grow larger and be on par in size w/the other flagship universities in the commonwealth. 15,000 students? That must be one of the smaller 'state school' enrollments in the country. UNC Chapel Hill is over 20,000 and is still a choice school. UVA needs to grow (other state schools have steadily grown) to accommodate an increasingly competitive and larger Virginia high school population. Also, completely agree with previous poster about Mason, JMU, ODU, VCU, etc...those schools have come a long way in helping to create, across the board, the best state higher education system in the country in my opinion.

Posted by: vaguypost | January 6, 2009 10:05 AM

I can't believe the posts about how great it is to have out-of-state students...I think it is a bunch of BS and a fully qualified Virginia student should get in over an out-of-stater "supremely gifted" student. The Virginia taxpayer's children should always get a preference over a non-taxpaying out-of-stater. Those who say smarter out-of-staters should prevail over in-staters should take their money to a private school.

Posted by: nosurprise2me | January 6, 2009 10:14 AM

I'm curious to know what the current stat is for in-state students from Northern VA. I graduated UVa in 04 and then the percentage of Northern VA students was about 50-60%(myself included). Obviously, that is consistent with state-wide demographics. The question could be raised as, would the increase in in-state students benefit the entire state, or just academically-advantaged Northern VA? I for one, enjoyed a wider range of students from all over. UVa attracts A LOT of international students as well.

Posted by: sarc04 | January 6, 2009 10:17 AM

"Should U-Va. Save More Spots For Virginians?"

"Public colleges exist primarily to educate residents of the state that's paying for the school's existence..."

Well Duhhh!

Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | January 6, 2009 10:20 AM

Lets se first we have an argument about FCPS and their grading school and now admitting Va students to allegedely "The University of VA". These issues pop up every couple of years going back to when I graduated in 77. percent of in state students should be at least 80% and FCPS should use a ten point scale for grading 90-100 is an A. No A pluses or minuses etc.

And the lazy good for nothing union scum teachers need to get off their butts and starting teaching and not making excuses and blaming parents. And VA needs to pass a law banning all public and govt employees from being union members.

Posted by: sheepherder | January 6, 2009 10:35 AM

UVA has been catering to out of state tuition payers and immigrants for years now.

When I see American VA citizens with 3.0+ GPA's consistently being passed over for a HB-1 visa holder or an out-of-state applicant it makes me wonder if they are in the business of educating or making money and political connections.

I would bet on the latter.

Posted by: indep2 | January 6, 2009 10:46 AM

"The Virginia taxpayer's children should always get a preference over a non-taxpaying out-of-stater. Those who say smarter out-of-staters should prevail over in-staters should take their money to a private school."

What does paying taxes have to do with anything The "non-taxpaying out-of-stater" is going to pay far more in tuition than the Virginia taxpayer would pay in taxes allocable to UVA. Make a better argument.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | January 6, 2009 11:11 AM

Let's narrow the argument down. Why should more-qualified kids from NoVa be rejected in favor of less-qualified kids from RoVa? The NoVa families are probably paying more in taxes so if we're going to use taxes as the measuring stick, that favors the NoVa kids too.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | January 6, 2009 11:13 AM

When did "adding spice" become a priority in education? Probably about the same time that actual practical education was sublimated to "celebrating diversity."

VA state schools for VA taxpayers and their children.

Posted by: DaveinVA | January 6, 2009 11:28 AM

"The Virginia taxpayer's children should always get a preference over a non-taxpaying out-of-stater. Those who say smarter out-of-staters should prevail over in-staters should take their money to a private school."

"Public colleges exist primarily to educate residents of the state that's paying for the school's existence..."

....Wake up people, I really hope that none of you making these arguments actually graduated from UVA. If you did, please do not tell anyone - we don't need you hurting the schools image.

Tax payers that fund the school?? Seriously? Do any of you have any idea how little the state gives the school now? If you actually are paying state taxes take a look at the break down - you are not giving that much to public education. Instead take a look at a four-year out of state UVA degree. All said and done we are talking around $120,000. You all should be thanking the out of state students for funding your education.

UVA is one of the premier public schools in the country, start keeping out the out of state (and country) students and you will see that status quickly vanish.

Posted by: WPresB | January 6, 2009 11:37 AM

The whole aspect of mostly NoVa kids attending is very interesting. An often cited example is if you really want to go to UVA move to another area of the state and you have a much better chance. (Thats a whole other issue and I want to comlain about the ridiculousness of NoVa people in general)

Which ties the two issues together (along with theh grad thing from yesterday) NoVa people as a whole (and I am one of them) are some of the most elitist whining people I have ever met.

People tend to forget that the world doesn't revolve around NoVa. As one of the richest areas in the country we should be thankful. Instead all of this wealth allows people the time to complain about all sorts of issues.

Posted by: novamiddleman | January 6, 2009 11:41 AM

If 70% is better than 67% - then wouldn't 100% in state be even better?

UVa has built a solid reputation and highly-sought-after academic experience by admitting a higher-than-average proportion of out-of-state students. That proposition has worked well for more than a century, and is well worth continuing.

Posted by: lessthanzeropointzero | January 6, 2009 11:52 AM

From indep2: "3.0+ GPA's consistently being passed over for a HB-1 visa holder or an out-of-state applicant"

Poppycock. I was admitted to UVA with a marginal 3.2 GPA from an average Virginia high-school. But, I had a balanced application - lots of activities, advanced course-work, multiple varsity sports, etc. It's not just about grades and test scores, despite what the College Board and Princeton Review would have you believe.

If you're a kid with a 4.0 and nothing else to offer, you don't deserve to be admitted to a top-notch university in any state.

Life isn't one-dimensional.

Posted by: snarfsnarfsnarf | January 6, 2009 1:53 PM

Reader and William & Mary alum Tom Lipscomb passes along a very useful piece in which W&M President Taylor Reveley notes that the very identity of Virginia's top state colleges is changing as a result of declining state aid.

Reveley says: "Very focused attention must go to how we propose to finance the university going forward. The old model -- primary reliance on state support -- no longer works. That era has passed, never to return. We have become, inescapably, a privately funded university that also receives some taxpayer support. The crucial question is how we make the new financial model work."

Read the full interview at

Posted by: Fisher-TWP | January 6, 2009 2:30 PM

As an out-of-state student who attended both W&M (undergrad) and UVA (graduate school), I find this argument to be irrelevant in the face of the current economics of Virginia state schools. The fact of the matter is that the schools receive less and less funding from the state (and VA state resident taxes) these days. Out of state students act as 1) subsidizers of the University system, 2) inflators of the admission statistics, 3) contributors of perspectives outside of Virginia. These great universities are now, as President Reveley so aptly states, de facto private universities. So much so, in fact, that the graduate school at which I was a student (Darden) is run as a private institution (as is the law school at UVA). It actually makes financial sense for the undergraduate universities to privatize, admit the most deserving students from ALL backgrounds, states, and countries, and run the school free from the influence of the Board of Visitors, legislators, and in-state politics. As it stands, if the state of Virginia is only kicking in somewhere between 10-14% of a school's budget, plus nominal tuition, why should out of state students be expected to burden the budgetary shortfalls?

I love the schools where I received what I believe to be a world-class education. I can only hope that those running the schools act in the best interest of the educational institutions as a whole, and if that means taking less state money and more out of state students, so be it. As an alum, my concern now is that the academic standing of the school only increases with time, thus giving me a greater return on my educational investment. The only way that can happen is for the schools to be adequately funded with respect to the competition (Duke, Ivies, Vandy, G-town, etc.). Of course, if the state decides to fully fund the school, then I am fine with fewer out of state students being admitted so long as the academic standards remain in line with what they are today.

Posted by: TribeHoo | January 6, 2009 7:38 PM

Well, a couple of observations from a Fairfax County parent whose son started college last September: first, what is the percentage of out of state students at the start of the freshman year - I suspect that would be higher and more telling.

Second - while he had a shaky 3.0 (but, hey it was in the tougher FCPS school system), he was offered two full tuition scholarships out of state because of his talent in his chosen field of study - music - and offered a stipend (JMU brags about not offering scholarships) from the school of music, who really wanted the number one Virginia high school musician on his instrument, but then got wait listed by the university till he graduated. Recall that JMU was really at the center of the out of state controversy last fall. So he went out of state.

There does seem to be something amiss here. And yes, whether it's 33 percent or 14 percent, it is the citizens of Virginia who make it possible for the schools to open their doors.

Posted by: mcmitaly | January 7, 2009 8:45 AM

I graduated from WM in 2007 and I can assure you that it is most certainly not "the citizens of Virginia who make it possible for the schools to open their doors". By this point, the state affiliation is unfortunately becoming detrimental to the instutition. State affiliation provides us with a very small share of our budget and in return ties our hands in many ways, not only with regards to in-state admissions but in all areas of the schools' operations. An unfortunate recent example of this was some socially conservative VA legislators agitating to remove our most recent president because they did not like his liberal policies regarding affirmative action and some other issues. (I'm not taking a position on whether he was a good president, but the fact that some otherwise uninvolved legislators felt entitled to meddle in the College's business for blatantly political reasons rubbed a lot of us the wrong way.)

It's a true statement that less-qualified students from 'underrepresented' areas of VA are being admitted over vastly more qualified students from Nova and out-of-state. This is definitely detrimental to WMs academic rankings. But I am torn over whether it's a good thing to stop doing it. WM is not racially diverse, but for a top-ranked national university, it's pretty socioeconomically diverse (aka not everyone went to private boarding schools and/or had college admissions counselors) and I think that's an important part of campus character. Also, lots of super qualified people who could otherwise afford to go to Gtown or wherever choose to come here because even though they COULD pay $140k for Georgetown, that's stupid when you could pay $50k for WM instead.

Basically I'm glad I'm not the president and don't have to figure out how to deal with this issue.

Posted by: lilybelle2 | January 7, 2009 9:36 AM

I think the taxpayers have forfeited any claim to UVA. It is for all practical purposes a private institution. I suspect that the current 14% state funding level could easily go to zero in the coming years, especially in light of bogus demands being made by the GA. Yes, the state owns the physical plant, but UVA does have a billion plus endowment.

Posted by: wdcpost1 | January 7, 2009 9:51 AM

I have been paying for these schools for 30 years and would like a greater chance for my kids to go to UVA. Maybe this law isn't the way to accompish that but it is the University of VIRGINIA and one of the reasons, along with the superior public schools we choose to live here.

Posted by: bob29 | January 7, 2009 9:53 AM

Bob29 - Admission to UVA, W&M, or VT isn't impossible. If your kids make the grades and have a well-rounded application, they shouldn't have trouble being accepted to one of the three.

However, even if the three increased the portion of in-state students to 90 percent, marginal applicants would still be marginal. At UVA, that would allow about 500 extra freshman each year. Out of nearly 19,000 applicants received (in 2008).

The best bet for admission is to be an outstanding student in all respects, in and out of the classroom. Don't leave it up to chance.

Posted by: snarfsnarfsnarf | January 7, 2009 10:12 AM

I'm just curious - is this really about more NoVa kids getting into Virginia schools?

My siblings and I all went to different Virginia State schools. And I never noticed a majority of non-Virginia students - most of my friends were from NoVa or somewhere in the Tidewater area. Oh, I had one from Delaware and a cluster from Pennsylvania, but mostly, it was Virginia students.

I think this has to do with parents complaining that the population-heavy NoVa isn't getting *all* of its kids into state schools. Does it suck? Yes. Is some of it unfair? Probably. But the state schools have been like this for over 20 years now - lots of qualified applicants for our "Public Ivies" (W&M and UVa were two of the original 8). Not everyone is going to get in, and no moping and calling the school or your representative is going to change that.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | January 7, 2009 10:17 AM

It's funny to "claim" state schools as their own because they pay for it. By that logic, don't apply to out-of-state schools. Someone else is footing your bill.

Posted by: sarc04 | January 7, 2009 10:32 AM

I'm a Wahoo (Coll. '96) from Md. As I recall, the University only gets about 10-15% of its operating budget from public funds. If the University is 65% in-state, that's still a bargain for the Virginia taxpayer. And when out-of-state students' tuition is about twice that of in-state students, those proposing an increase in the quota for in-staters need to propose how to meet the ensuing budget shortfall, as well.

Posted by: lioninzion | January 7, 2009 10:37 AM

Some of the commenters caught up in the argument that state universities are paid for by VA taxpayers and therefore should serve basically only VA taxpayers should note the comment in the article about VA paying 14% of the budget. Although the state does also kick in for capital improvements and other large expenditures we taxpayers have ignored the fact that "state" schools are no longer truly funded by the state.

As it stands now, all Virginia state school have a majority of in-state students who are getting a great deal on an excellent education we don't need to figure out how to "fix" this non-problem. We do need to figure out how to help our in-state schools retain the funding they need to stay as one of the best state school systems in the country and to allow our top-ranked state schools to continue to compete with private institutions.

Posted by: mtgent | January 7, 2009 11:34 AM

The reason so many Virginians are so eager to get into UVa is that it's one of the last truly great public universities. A big part of the reason is the large population of out of state students--who not only add "spice" to the university community but, more importantly, bring up the admissions and selectivity statistics (and hence the US News rankings), help the University recruit and retain outstanding faculty (who want to teach an excellent and diverse student body), and keep the University plugged into nationwide sources of fundraising that a conventional "state school" could never tap. All of that contributes a lot more to the education of Virginians at UVa than the State of Virginia contributes to the education of out of staters. (As the article notes, the state actually does not subsidize the education of out of state students AT ALL. They pay 150% of the cost of their education).

Mandate a substantially smaller out-of-state population and you'll see a big dropoff in giving and in the school's ranking, and do long-term harm to the very attributes that make Virginians so eager to attend. There's no free lunch.

Posted by: Scott1971 | January 7, 2009 1:06 PM

The fact of the matter is that being a public institution these days is more of a liability than a benefit. Why? Because colleges become victims of state politics, which we all know has the propensity to ruin all it touches.

That Mr. Athey was so startlingly off with his statistics only seems to validate that the General Assembly isn't particularly adept at running colleges. Sure, we can up the required percentage of in-state students at our top schools (U.Va., Tech, W&M, etc.), but doing so will have consequences.

More of the financial burden will be shifted to taxpayers just to maintain the status quo (since out-of-staters pay more than in-state students for the same education). In a lean state budget, even a few bucks can be nearly impossible to come by. Also, the prestige of the schools will naturally decline at least somewhat, as less qualified students take the places of more qualified ones. I greatly appreciate the fact that Virginia has one of the nation's premiere public college systems, and I for one would hate to see us lose our competitive advantage.

Proceed with caution when absorbing political arguments, particularly about changing the way our colleges are run. Something that sounds sweet and simple often is anything but.

Posted by: Wahoo11 | January 7, 2009 10:52 PM

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