No doubt most teenagers who attend state universities never look beyond their borders. If you’re a kid living in Los Angeles, the cost of going to UCLA or Berkeley is going to be cheaper than attending another flagship like the University of Texas or the University of Michigan.
What keeps plenty of kids from wandering too far from home is the high out-of-state tuition at many public universities. At the University of Michigan, for instance, the tuition for in-state kids is $11,037, but for teenagers coming from any of the other 49 states it’s $33,069. And that doesn’t include room and board.
But curiously enough the price tag at these flagship schools will be quite reasonable for some lucky applicants.
While flagship universities aren’t inclined to talk about it, some of them are luring smart out-of-state students to their campuses by offering great financial aid packages. In some cases these schools are offering top students the same price break that they extend to their local kids.
I’m mentioning this phenomenon because recently I’ve heard about two students who were surprised to receive great deals from the University of Texas. One girl who lives in Cambridge, MA, wanted to flee the Ivy League scene so she applied to the University of Texas, Austin. She and her parents were shocked when the acceptance letter included an offer of in-state tuition. Texas students pay $8,532 for tuition versus $27,760 for everybody else.
When I was interviewing the head of the Education Trust about a week ago, she mentioned that the child of one of her colleagues, who lives in Washington, DC area, got a generous offer from the University of Texas that was also a surprise.
You can imagine that Texas taxpayers wouldn’t be too happy to know that their tax dollars are going to underwrite the education of kids on the East Coast. So why would Texas or any of the other flagships do this?
Here’s a possible answer. Attracting students with top SAT and grades — regardless of where they are from — can help a school inch its way up on the U.S. News & World Report rankings. It’s no wonder that schools typically keep this cynical practice under wraps.
While more families know about reciprocity agreements between state universities, few people know about cutting the price this way.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution.