Oregon’s flagship university boasts a well-heeled athletic program that has made it one of the most recognizable brands in college sports. Yet that has not shielded the University of Oregon from challenges facing many other public universities: a shrinking pipeline of local high school students and dwindling state appropriations.
And like other state schools in the same predicament, Oregon has embarked on a campaign to boost out-of-state and international enrollment to combat those prevailing trends. But at what cost?
The success of that effort has meant that just 47 percent of new freshmen in 2014 were state residents, compared with 68 percent a decade earlier, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal data.
“The question is, if we think of public higher education as being there to provide quality higher education to state residents, then are out-of-state students squeezing out in-state students?” said Sandy Baum, an expert on higher education finance and a senior fellow at the nonprofit Urban Institute.
Roger Thompson, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Oregon, said 2004 was when the number of high school graduates peaked in the state. Shortly afterward, the population of college-age teens in Oregon began contracting. Researchers at the National Center for Education Statistics say the decline will continue through 2021.
“We’re not a large population state,” Thompson said. “We’re going to graduate about 35,000 high school students this year. In the state of California — the state directly to our south — they’re going to graduate about 450,000 high school students.”
The largest percentage of out-of-state students at Oregon hail from the San Francisco Bay area, Orange County, Los Angeles and San Diego, Thompson said. The university even deploys regional recruiters in some of those areas.
While there are no full-time recruiters on the ground in Asia, Thompson said administrators travel to the region periodically because of the steady stream of students from China, Singapore, Japan and India. By his own estimates, the school’s international population has grown from 3 percent to about 10 percent of incoming freshmen in the past six years.
“It’s a global economy. We would be doing our students a disservice if we did not have them learning, living, recreating with students that have come from different places around the world,” Thompson said.
Perhaps, but the financial benefit of enrolling students who pay $32,022 in tuition and fees, triple the amount charged to Oregonians, is undeniable.
After the state legislature capped property taxes in 1990, Oregon’s public colleges and universities experienced unyielding decline in support from the local government. State funding per full-time student in Oregon fell 41 percent between 1994 and 2014, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
Public colleges during that time grew far more reliant on tuition revenue to offset the loss. Whereas tuition made up a third of total revenue at Oregon’s state schools in 1994, those dollars accounted for 61 percent of the money needed to educate students in 2014.
In the pursuit of revenue to offset diminished state funding, higher education experts worry that public universities are shutting out low-income students.
Out-of-state students at top public research universities are more likely to come from households making more than $100,000 a year compared with their in-state peers, according to Ozan Jaquette, assistant professor in the educational policy studies department at the University of Arizona.
Using federal data, he found that a third of in-state freshmen at top public research universities were eligible for Pell grants, money set aside for needy college students, while the same was true for just 11 percent of nonresidents. He also found that out-of-state students at those schools were more likely to be white and Asian than African American or Hispanic.
“When the share of nonresidents increases, the share of low-income kids declines and the share of black and Latino students declines, so this contributes to socioeconomic and racial isolation for students at flagship publics,” Jaquette said.
At Oregon, Thompson said school administrators have made a concerted effort to avoid that scenario. The university spent $15.6 million on scholarships and grants for students with financial need in the 2014-2015 academic year, about 56 percent of its institutional aid, according to data provided to analysts. A decade earlier, the school set aside barely 2 percent of its own dollars for needy students.
“We’re now enrolling more Pell-eligible students than we ever have in the university’s history,” Thompson said. “Our enrollment goals are to increase diversity both from a socioeconomic standpoint and from a race and ethnicity standpoint, so to do that we’ve aligned our financial aid strategy with that goal.”
As much as Oregon is bent on becoming more global and regionally diverse, Thompson said the university has not lost sight of its mission to educate Oregonians.
“We will always give benefit to the Oregon resident,” he said. “And if you’re not academically qualified coming out of high school, but really want a degree from the University of Oregon, we will do everything in our power to help you get here. About 60 to 65 percent of our transfer students are Oregon residents that come from community colleges in the state.”