Some colleges may admit students based on their tuition

By SAM INGLOT
Capital News Service

LANSING— Some Michigan higher education advocates disagree with a national survey that found most colleges and universities target higher-paying students during the admissions process.

“I think to paint all universities with that survey is misleading,” said Michael Boulus, executive director for the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

The survey found that a top goal of admissions directors is to recruit students who will pay more for their tuition, including out-of-state students, international students and full-pay students—those who don’t need financial aid.

The survey, published by Inside Higher Ed, a higher education news and resource webpage, polled 462 anonymous admissions officials from nonprofit colleges and universities,

Public universities are traditionally known for access to all students regardless of income.

But the survey indicates that in-state and low-income students may not be as highly sought as other students who can pay higher tuition to financially strapped universities.

Boulus said a decline in state higher education funding and “inconsistent” federal funding has created a need to increase tuition to compensate for the loss. He said some universities may look to students who can pay more in tuition than in-state and financial aid recipients.

Although he said that universities are not targeting higher-paying students for recruitment, the revenue they generate is used to fund financial aid programs.

Michigan in-state tuition at four-year institutions rose 6 percent on average in 2011, according to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.

“In Michigan we have a strong commitment to providing access,” Boulus said. “Access meaning we want to provide to all of our students and citizens who are capable in Michigan regardless of their income.”

Admissions officials “bend over backwards” to help students from low-income families, said Brandy Johnson, executive director for Michigan College Access Network, an organization focused on increasing college participation and completion rates in Michigan. The group helps low-income, first-generation and minority students.

It’s common for institutions like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University to recruit full-pay, out-of-state and international students, Johnson said but those funds help subsidize poor students.

Johnson said in her experience, MSU and UM use the extra money from out-of-state and international tuition and reinvest it in college access and outreach activities.

“They often use that funding to offset need-based financial aid for those high-achieving but low-income students,” she said.

Mike Cook, senior associate director of the MSU Office of Admissions, said there is another reason why colleges want to attract out-of-state and international students.

“You can also look at it from the perspective that we want a diverse student body,” Cook said. “If we admitted only in-state students then Michigan State would be kind of like one big Michigan high school.”

Like other universities, particularly those in the Big Ten, MSU actively recruits out-of-state and international students, Cook said. A diverse student body is all about “the experience the students get in relating to each other and bringing different perspectives and values to the classroom.”

“Someone from China is going to think a little different than you do, someone from California is going to have a different perspective than you do,” he said. “That’s all part of the admissions decisions. We like to bring in out-of-state students for that reason.”

MSU looks at the number of applications and the strength of the application pool, he said.

Admissions is not driven by money.

“In our office that is not a piece of the admission operations. We have a class to make and we make it based on the applications that we get. If you were to ask someone from Purdue or Illinois, they would tell you the same thing,” he said.

When it comes to recruiting higher-paying students, he said, “Obviously the revenue increase is a positive for the university. It helps pay the bills and it helps keep tuition down.”

Out of the 36,000 undergraduate students at MSU in fall of 2010, 84 percent were in-state students, 8 percent were out-of-state and international students made up 8 percent.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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