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November 30, 2016

Bring on the out-of-state plan

The University of Massachusetts has been abuzz over the past couple of weeks with Chancellor Holub’s announcement of a new plan to enlarge the school’s revenue by increasing the number of out-of-state students who attend each year. Since I’m from Stratford, Connecticut, I was initially very excited about this news. I have often wished that more people from out-of-state attended UMass because we are such a minority on campus. But then I began to think about the repercussions of this plan, and I started wondering if this would really be as economically beneficial to our school as we believe.

Out-of-state undergrads pay twice as much in tuition as in-state students and currently make up approximately 20 percent of the student population. Holub’s plan aims to increase the number of out-of state students by 6,500 (to 30 percent) by 2020, while leaving the number of in-state students at approximately 16,000. The University plans to enroll an additional 300 out-of-state students each year, which they predict would bring in an estimated $4 million in additional revenue.

All of this sounds great on paper, but will such an increase in the out-of-state population really bring in as much revenue as the UMass administration is anticipating? It is true that out-of-state students pay more to go here, and it is true that increasing the number of out-of-staters who pay about $31,000 a year would create a lot of additional revenue for the University – but how can we predict that all of the 300 students added each year will be paying full tuition price? These are tough economic times, and the average student from out-of-state will probably not want to pay the additional $10,000 that he would be paying to go to UMass instead of his own state’s public university. The chancellor has already acknowledged that the university will be enticing out-of-state students to attend by offering them financial aid packages or scholarships, both of which would put a dent on the overall profit gained by this student increase, though probably not to the extent where this plan would not be worthwhile.

But then one has to consider the housing issue that will arise from such a significant increase to the student population. This year UMass already seems to have a housing shortage on its hands, with students currently occupying lounges in UMass’ dorm buildings and others who were initially unable to get on-campus housing. If we’re having this housing problem already, one can imagine the problems that will arise as the student population increases each year. Eventually UMass will have to build new dormitories to house this excess of students – a project that will inevitably cost millions of dollars (as a point of reference, UMass’ new recreation center cost approximately $50 million). New dining commons will need to be built as well, since the dining commons UMass currently has can barely accommodate students during the dinner rush. Imagine how much more crowded they will be with thousands of more mouths to feed.

And then, of course, it would be hard to increase the size of the student population by 6,500 people without sacrificing the quality of education that students receive. Such a drastic expansion would make it more difficult for UMass undergrads to get into the classes they want to take – an already frustrating process. The solution, of course, will lie in hiring more teachers and building more academic buildings so that more classes and sections can be offered – even more expenses that the University will have to grapple with down the road.

I’m not trying to suggest that Chancellor Holub’s plan to increase the number of out-of-state students at UMass is a bad idea – much to the contrary. I think that the addition of more out-of-staters will eventually make UMass more prestigious, appealing and competitive. As more out-of-state students attend UMass over the years, it will be seen as more of a viable and appealing option for prospective college students, a phenomenon that will undoubtedly increase the average SAT scores and other entrance statistics of applicants. These benefits and others will go a long way in improving UMass’ already-impressive standing as one of top schools in the country.

However, I think that these positive effects are somewhat separate from the supposed financial gains that University’s administrators are aiming for with this proposal. Though accepting more high-tuition paying students will increase UMass’ revenue by millions, much of this gain may end up being spent on financial aid packages for these new students, new housing projects and the hiring of additional faculty.

I am sure that at the end of the day the University will be making a net profit of some sort, but I doubt these gains will be as significant as they are being touted to be, at least not in the short term. Before the University embarks on this ambitious mission, it should probably put in place some sort of plan to accommodate the influx of new students. If they don’t, things could get pretty chaotic around campus throughout the next decade of growth and expansion.

Dan Rahrig is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at drahrig@student.umass.edu.

Comments
2 Responses to “Bring on the out-of-state plan”
  1. Alex says:

    In terms of housing and dining capacity issues, I believe the chancellor also mentioned allowing sophomores to move off campus which I bet will soon be followed by a modified housing lottery in which only freshmen are guaranteed campus housing. As terrible as this sounds it’s how plenty of private universities manage to increase enrollment without building the corresponding infrastructure.

    As sad as it is to see UMass distance itself from its land-grant roots and focus on out of state students, I really don’t think Holub has much choice as the State seems less and less interested in investing in it’s own educational system (I’m talking about long term trends, not just the current crisis) and making the University as financially independent as possible can only be done in part by increasing out of state revenues which go directly to UMass instead of being pooled back into the state budget as with in state tuition (one of the reasons why your tuition is so low but you have a curriculum fee that’s far larger).

  2. Dan Rahrig says:

    I would like to clear something up that I think may be slightly confusing – when I say the university projects adding 300 students per year for ten years will bring in $4 million of additional revenue, I mean $4 million PER YEAR. I do not want to misrepresent the chancellor’s plan – this is a big difference – but my main point still remains that this additional revenue will not offset the expenses the university will be faced with in the coming decade as a result of this population increase.

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