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Out-of-State Caps

12 Feb Posted by in Business, Policies | Comments Off on Out-of-State Caps

One of the most intriguing themes emerging from this year’s legislative session, obviously aside from the budget itself, involves the surprisingly strong push from various quarters to “do something” about out of state students in Commonwealth colleges and universities. Several measures in the House propose a 30% cap, presumably allowing places above the cap some time to adjust; one, which would hit Mason very directly, calls simply for an out-of-state percentage in next fall’s freshman class no higher than that of 2008. The Senate, avoiding caps, proposes tripling the current per-credit capital fee for out of state students (from $2 to $6), which would cost Mason roughly $600,000.

My comments on this are my own, not a University position, though it’s fair to say that most of us administrators are wary of the imposition of caps even when they’re high enough not currently to affect us directly. Some institutions have such a huge majority of in-staters that the issue does not move them. One effort to raise objections directly to legislators involved reportedly provoked ire, so caution may be in order. Nevertheless: here are the troubling points about the moves, from my standpoint, granting that they presumably are seen as having some political appeal.

First, the moves, at least on the House side, address a non-problem: there is no evidence that qualified students in Virginia can’t find a higher education home. It may of course not be the home they want, but I hope that institutions will be allowed to maintain appropriate, and varied, standards — though it’s possible that some politicians might intend otherwise in response to constituent laments.

Second, the moves pretty obviously work against educational quality. Institutional prestige attaches to some national and international recruitment, quite apart from the resource advantages in having some admixture of out-of-staters. This prestige helps the Commonwealth, including Virginia students. Having students from different places is also an educationally-relevant antidote to parochialism, a malady that can afflict some students even in Northern Virginia. And many of the “foreigners” actually settle in Virginia, which is an economic development boon; that’s certainly true for many out-of-state graduates from Mason.

What does seem to me appropriate for the legislature to demand is evidence that out-of-staters pay more than costs, which I think we can demonstrate on the operational side at least. If we need a bit more contribution on the facilities side, as the Senate suggests, one might reluctantly concur. But caps themselves are simply a bad move. The question is, how to cut through the fog of rhetoric to have a constructive discussion of the real issues involved.