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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