Virginia is the envy of other states when it comes to higher education. The University of Virginia (UVA) and the College of William and Mary attract applicant pools of Ivy League quality.

With most applicants presenting excellent grades and standardized test scores along with impressive extracurricular activities and accomplishments, Virginia high school seniors who apply to UVA and William and Mary understand that they will be participating in an intense competition, and chances are good that their applications will be rejected. What they (and their parents) probably don't know is that one reason they may not be accepted is that these schools enroll such a high proportion of out-of-state students.

Take William and Mary as an example (although UVA is substantially the same). This year's freshman class at William and Mary, according to the student newspaper, consists of about 1,300 students, a shocking 44 percent of whom come from out of state.

William and Mary representatives make no secret of the fact that they receive far more applications from qualified in-state students than they possibly can accommodate. I have known several young men and women in Northern Virginia who had sterling credentials, but when they applied for admission to William and Mary, they were turned down. (In the interest of full disclosure, two members of my family applied to William and Mary, and both were accepted.)

If we have enough qualified Virginians to fill almost the entire freshman class at William and Mary, what reason is there for the school to favor the children of parents who do not pay Virginia taxes?

My guess? Pride and money.

First, pride. William and Mary finds out-of-state applicants with high SAT scores irresistible. These scores, a critical component in the freshman class profile, help guarantee a higher position in U.S. News and World Report's influential annual college rankings, as well as better write-ups and rankings in other college guides.

Keep in mind that while the scores of out-of-state applicants may be higher than those of Virginia applicants, we are not talking about a difference between mediocre and excellent, but between excellent and just a tiny bit better. For a few SAT points, William and Mary administrators reject hundreds of qualified Virginians who are just as likely to succeed at the school as the out-of-staters who are accepted in their place.

Second comes money. Out-of-state students are cash cows for William and Mary, with each one paying almost $12,000 more per year in tuition and fees than an in-state student pays. This extra money offers William and Mary a means to circumvent funding restrictions imposed by the state budget process.

It is time that the governor and the state General Assembly brought the administrators of William and Mary and UVA to heel by enacting legislation specifying that the percentage of out-of-state students in each year's freshman class not exceed 15 percent. If money is the problem, the General Assembly should be persuaded to grant a special appropriation each year to make up for what William and Mary and UVA would lose by giving Virginians the preference they deserve in the admissions process.

-- Stephen Denny