Last week at the exercise boot camp that I attend on Sunday mornings, I saw a mom who hadn’t been coming to the workouts for several months. The mom is divorced and is trying to support herself as a manicurist.
Her son is a high school senior so I had been giving her some college advice before she stopped showing up on Sundays.
When I saw her, I asked her if her son knew where he would be attending school in the fall.
She frowned and said, “He wants to go to the University of Oregon.”
I was stunned. “Oregon! Are you kidding me?”
I wasn’t surprised when the mom said that her son’s package consisted entirely of loans for a school that will cost a nonresident at least $47,000.
The San Diegan teenager, who was attracted to Oregon because of its tremendous football success (!!!), is not dissuaded by the price tag.
Eighteen-year-olds seem immune to large price tags when loans can temporarily keep them from dealing with harsh financial realities. Making matters worse, the teachers at this teenager’s school are encouraging him to go to Oregon! Ryan’s dad is exploring how to make this work which would include a huge debt.
Universities Charge More When They Can
The steep price that Oregon is charging Ryan illustrates a classic supply-and-demand phenomenon. Public universities that are extremely popular with their own residents, as well as teenagers from other states, don’t have to offer much of a financial enticement (if any) to attract outsiders to their campuses. This same phenomenon is played out among private colleges and universities.
The Oregon flagship not only has a successful football program, but it is located next to the nation’s most populous state that doesn’t have enough capacity to educate its own college students. So many Californians are attending the U. of Oregon that it’s been called the University of California at Eugene.
Elite flagships are recruiting high-income students
When students contemplate the possibility of attending college outside their own state, they often put prominent state flagships on their dream lists. A major reason for this is because the typical teenagers and their parents unfortunately know of very few colleges and universities.
If you aren’t rich, however, I’d suggest that you not fall in love with name brand schools like the Universities of California, Michigan, Virginia, Texas or that are located in desirable geographic areas such as the University of Colorado and University of Vermont (both near ski slopes) and the University of Arizona and Arizona State (both temperate weather).
These schools and others with strong brand names are hungry for outsiders who can bankroll an education that can cost more than $200,000.
Some of these institutions, such as Michigan, provide token merit scholarships – $5,742 is the average – but that won’t go far when you will be paying private school prices for state educations. Some prominent state universities, such as UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, don’t award any merit scholarships to outsiders.
Getting Into a Flagship
It’s easier to gain admission into prestigious flagships as an outsider now because these institutions need the extra cash. Finding out-of-state sugar daddies is one way for these schools to attract new dollars. And it’s easier to entice rich students to their campuses than for these institutions to get serious about making meaningful structural changes.
I wrote a story for my college blog over at CBS MoneyWatch a few years ago about a dad, who works at Columbia University, whose daughter had planned to attend the University of Michigan. She attended the new student orientation in the summer before her dad noticed that he had misread the bill. He thought the tuition was going to be a total of $19,000, but that was the price per semester. Now the school’s tuition is $4,000 a year more.
Affluent students are the ones attending these popular schools because state universities almost never give need-based aid to nonresident applicants who can’t afford the tab. And that’s why I never would have recommended that Ryan apply to Oregon. The most he could have hoped for would have been a token scholarship and that would have barely made a dent in the cost.
As these flagships attract more higher-income students within their own borders and beyond, low and middle-income residents are getting less access to these institutions. In essence, these mighty institutions are becoming privatized.
State Schools Off the Radar
Unless you can afford to pay private-school prices for an education at a public university, I would suggest throwing a much wider net. If you look beyond the most popular flagships, plenty of state universities offer significant discounts to nonresidents.
The New York state universities (SUNY’s) , for instance, represent some excellent values. Unlike many states, New York state has continued to support its public universities at levels other state legislatures have long abandoned.
Another potential great buy is the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, which is a bargain compared to Michigan. I once asked a teenager why he thought that the University of Michigan is so much more popular than the U. of Minnesota, which is located in the Twin Cities. “Minnesota is cold,” he replied. I mentioned that Michigan is hardly a temperate climate. My theory is that Michigan has enjoyed a long and storied tradition of success in the Big 10 athletic conference and the Minnesota Gophers have not.
The scholarships for nonresidents can be more generous and prices much lower to begin with at schools that have to work harder to attract nonresidents. University of Arkansas, for instance, has tons of scholarships for nonresidents. A huge plus at Arkansas is the tremendous amount of internships for students because of Walmart’s proximity. Walmart requires major corporations to maintain an office in Arkansas so there are hundreds of corporate outposts in the state.
The University of New Mexico has impressive scholarships even for students with a 3.0 GPA and it’s located in a city (Albuquerque.) I am hoping that a daughter of a family friend, who is a gifted dancer, ends up at the University of Utah’s modern dance program, which is considered as good, if not better, than Julliard’s.
I could go on and on about the opportunities at state universities beyond the popular ones, but I think you get the picture.
If you want to lock in better prices, you need to be more imaginative when looking for schools. You can’t continue to fish in the same pond as everyone else!