Since the 2008 recession, 48 of the 50 U.S state governments have cut funding for higher education, including their support for the flagship state university. The most common practice to offset the cuts is cut spending or to raise tuition and fees.
Spending cuts are far more difficult to achieve with a flagship state university. The faculty, among other employees, might be working under negotiated union contracts. The university might have taken on additional debt to build new facilities, and it might not have the high credit rating it needs to sell that debt in the form of bonds. Then there are the costs of maintaining and upgrading technology and security on campus. And then there are the costs of serving the students, to help them to advance in their education, complete their degree and find work. Those services are cut more often than they should be.
In raising tuition and fees, the people who lead a flagship state university need to consider the students and their families, especially those who come from that state. It is common for candidates for governor, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, to promise that tuition increases to resident students will be low or kept to a minimum. Interestingly, among the flagships with the ten lowest charges for resident tuition and fees, all are led by Republican governors. The lowest charges in a Democratic-led state? Montana, which has gone Republican in every Presidential election since 1996.
The governor, and his appointed trustees would likely want to minimize the pain by raising the costs for non-residents to attend their state university. Today, 21 of the major flagship state universities charge more than $30,000 in non-resident tuition and fees. Quite a few more will surpass that figure next year.
New York is the most interesting of states in subsidizing its state schools in that most of them enroll less than ten percent of their undergraduate student bodies from other states. The exceptions: the university centers at Binghamton and Stony Brook. I have visited both, as well as the university center at Albany and the college at Geneseo. I have to admire the state for putting its own residents first. But at the same time many college-age New Yorkers leave the state to pursue other options if they cannot get into the most selective public schools.
I looked at a list of flagships and wondered: which school might be the best buy if I were a non-resident who wanted to go to a very good state university in another state.
My conclusion: the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, which charges non-residents just over $22,000 this year. At the same time, the university most recently drew a third of its freshmen, and about 27 percent of the student body, from other states.
- It is located in a large metro area that is also a major job market for college students and graduates.
- It is located in the capital of its state.
- It does not share the area with a large private university as cities such as Boston, Chicago and New York do.
- It graduated 59 percent of its 2009 freshman class within four years, excellent for a state university with more than 30,000 undergraduates.
- It retained 93 percent of the freshmen who arrived last fall, excellent for any college or university of any size.
Minnesota is also in the Big Ten, great for sports fans, although the football team has not contended for a national title since 1959. The university is also located in a city that has major league teams in all four of the major sports: baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
The governor of Minnesota, a Democrat, and the state’s legislature have kept non-resident tuition and fees reasonable at the expense of the state’s residents, who work off a sticker price of close to $14,000. Wisconsin and North Dakota and South Dakota residents receive discounts through a reciprocity agreement between the states. Residents of Manitoba, Canada receive them, too. Quite frankly, I have to wonder how long the university’s pricing practices will last. In fact. a reader (see below) sent me a link to an article that will tell you that a tuition increase for non residents has been proposed.
If you’re from a state other than Minnesota, want to go to college in a more progressive metro area than most, and not worry about Ivy Leaguers breathing down your necks in your job search, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities might be worth a look.