Arizona State University junior Greg Rudolph enters the W.P. Carey School of Business in Tempe, Ariz. on January 25. / Aaron Lavinsky, The Arizona Republic
PHOENIX -- Pursuing out-of-state students has become a key strategy for Arizona's state universities. They hired more recruiters to target students in other states. They beefed up advertising in high-traffic areas such as Southern California airports. And their presidents even persuaded the university system's governing body to temporarily raise a cap that used to limit out-of-state, undergraduate students to 30 percent.
On Friday, the regents are expected to vote to extend the temporary cap of 40 percent through January 2015. Some regents favor making the change permanent.
Out-of-state students are prized for many reasons. They generally pay up to three times more in tuition, an important consideration at a time when state per-student funding has dropped. Students from other states and countries add a certain cachet to a university's national reputation because colleges want to be viewed as a destination for students to earn degrees. And professors like non-resident students because they bring social and cultural diversity to classroom discussions.
One such out-of-state student is Greg Rudolph who chose between a school in his home state of California and Arizona State University in Glendale. On two separate visits to ASU, he got the impression college officials really wanted him there. In California, he felt he would be just a number.
Rudolph is now a junior majoring in business at ASU.
One in four undergraduate students at Arizona's three universities is now a non-resident. The change is most dramatic at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where 27 percent of undergraduates are non-residents, up from 22 percent in 2008. ASU and University of Arizona in Tucson have also seen increases. At ASU, 25 percent of undergraduates are non-residents, up from 22 percent. The University of Arizona has the highest percentage among the state universities, at 31 percent, which is up from 30 percent.
In some states, the trend toward accepting more non-resident students has been controversial. Faced with state budget cuts, some cash-strapped colleges limited enrollment while still accepting large numbers of non-residents. That made admissions for in-state students more competitive.
That isn't the case in Arizona. As long as Arizona students meet the admission requirements, they get in.
Across the country, universities have ramped up efforts to recruit out-of-state students, said Daniel Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The Washington, D.C.-based organization advocates for higher education.
Recruiting non-residents includes students from other states and other countries.
No organization tracks the percentage of out-of-state students at universities. Hurley said Arizona's percentages seem on the higher side. As long as the universities don't turn away in-state students, the increase is a smart economic move, he added.
"These students are bringing money with them from outside the state, spending it in the state with a good chance of adding to the talent pool after graduation," he said.
College officials once sought non-resident students mainly for cultural and ethnic diversity, he said. Now, because many states have reduced funding for higher education, college officials have a stronger financial motivation to attract out-of-state students who pay higher tuition rates. At ASU, tuition and fees for a non-resident undergraduate total $22,973 this year compared with $9,720 for an in-state resident.
Non-resident undergraduates brought in $504 million in tuition and fees to the Arizona university system in fiscal 2012.
Students choose to go out of state for many reasons.
For decades, Arizona's ultralow tuition made it cheaper for California students to pay out-of-state rates than in-state tuition in California.
Arizona's proximity to California attracts students who want a change of scenery. A student who comes to Arizona and likes the university, like Rudolph, spreads the word.
Rudolph said prospective students from California often think Phoenix is much more rural.
He lets them know "there are big concerts. There are buses. We have Walmart and Home Depot."
Arizona State University has four recruiters who live in California. Within the last two years, ASU has added recruiters in Chicago, Denver and Dallas. During that time, the University of Arizona has also increased the number of out-of-state recruiters from four to nine. Three are in California. The others are in Chicago, Denver, Dallas and on the East Coast. Arizona's mild winter climate is a powerful attraction for students in cold-weather states.
"That's how it starts, with the weather," said David Burge, executive director of ASU undergraduate admissions. "Then they get to know us a little better and visit campus and meet with faculty and staff, and they get legitimately excited."
For students who go out of state, there are some risks.
Retention rates are generally lower for students who go to school in another state. This means fewer return for their sophomore year. Some find tuition too expensive. Others get homesick. This presents a dilemma for the universities. The Arizona Board of Regents has directed the university presidents to increase the percentage of students overall who earn degrees. So university officials have an incentive to admit students they believe can finish.
That's one reason admission requirements can be slightly tougher, depending on the university.
In recruiting, University of Arizona employees emphasize finishing and show pictures of students at graduation.
"We're trying to just bring in really good-quality non-residents who are going to stay with us. The ultimate goal is graduation. We don't want you to come for a year. We want you to graduate and be an alum," said Kasey Urquidez, UA's dean of undergraduate admissions.
Hurley, of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, expects out-of-state recruiting to continue to be a focus. With colleges increasingly competing for out-of-state students, the numbers could level off at some point.
"Now there are so many regional recruiters in California," Urquidez said. "We've really had to step up our game."
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