Schuyler Stephens is a college recruiter's dream.
He's president of his senior class at Christopher High School in
Illinois. He's a four-year letterman in football, basketball, and
baseball, as well as a member of the drama and science clubs. He
ranks No. 8 in his class. And he hasn't missed a day of school
since second grade.
It's no surprise, then, that Murray State University is desperate
to attract Schuyler and students like him. What is perhaps
surprising, though, is how far this public university in Kentucky
is willing to go to get a kid from another state.
This summer, Murray State is starting what amounts to a tuition
border war to lure students from neighboring states. For co-eds
from Illinois, Tennessee, and Missouri, it will match the price of
the in-state competition.
As states clamor to secure the best students, more states from
Florida to South Dakota are offering out-of-state students
substantial tuition breaks.
Some critics deride the trend as a misuse of state subsidies. But
others see these students as tomorrow's workers, and with today's
economy founded on education and high-tech know-how, many state and
education officials are increasingly seeing these brightest students
as crucial to future prosperity.
"If there is anywhere this sort of trend is going to continue to
develop, it's going to be in the Midwest," says Travis Reindl of the
American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "It's about
demographics. A number of Plains States are, in the immediate term,
going to be looking at some slowing and slumping enrollment.
"For particular institutions, there is going to be a real
challenge to maintain and grow an enrollment base over the next
five to 10 years," he says.
A case in point is South Dakota. It has already reached an
agreement with Minnesota that allows students from either state to
attend the other's public colleges at roughly the same cost as in-
state students. But to the south and north, Nebraska and North
Dakota are drawing away students with scholarship programs and
reduced tuition rates.
So far the South Dakota Legislature has declined to offer a
similar tuition discount.
An out-of-state subsidy?
Indeed, most state legislators find such programs to be
problematic. They don't want to back tuition-reduction programs
that could be construed by voters as giving away state subsidies.
But without the ability to offer such programs, state colleges
aren't meeting their recruiting goals.
The quandary was evident in a dust-up that occurred along the
Texas-Louisiana border two years ago. The Texas Legislature agreed
to a tuition-reduction plan for all public colleges and
universities within 100 miles of the Lone Star state's border. …