The argument that there should be a larger percentage of out-of-state students on North Carolinas public university campuses is at its strongest when proponents talk about how those students enrich campus life and broaden the horizons of their North Carolina-born classmates. Its true, absolutely.
Many students who graduate from state campuses recall as their most unforgettable mates those they at first found so different, those from other regions of the country or in fact from other countries. And because the competition for admission is even tougher for out-of-state students, they tend to be top-flight scholars.
If the admission of North Carolina students would not be affected, it might be fine to raise the 18 percent cap on out-of-state enrollees allowed on UNC system campuses. However, some campuses, including Chapel Hill, have waiting lists and turn down many applicants.
So the cap should stay in place, the arguments of some campus officials to the contrary.
The publics support
The University of North Carolina system, even with budget cuts and during the recovery from the Great Recession, still receives relatively strong public financial support. And in good times, the support has been stupendous. Because of that faithful support from the people of North Carolina, campuses are attractive to students from every state and every country. Thats allowed the Chapel Hill campus, the flagship, to charge $28,250 in tuition and fees to out-of-state students and have them waiting in line to pay it.
In-state students pay about $7,500.
Almost all recent chancellors from Chapel Hill have supported the idea of admitting a larger percentage of out-of-state students. The idea is under discussion again among university officials and some on its Board of Governors.
That reflects, no doubt, a belief that having more such students would raise the quality of a given class, would add to the universitys prestige nationwide, would make the campus more cosmopolitan and enriching for all.
But heres the rub: All those things are true, but the university doesnt exist just to be a great institution for undergraduates and graduate students and faculty members. Its first mission is to serve the people of the state of North Carolina.
Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, indicated there might be a way to have the 18 percent cap apply not to individual campuses, but systemwide, thus allowing some campuses to exceed it. Thats not a good idea, and Ross knows full well that UNC-Chapel Hill, given a loose rein, would immediately enroll a much larger percentage of out-of-state students. That might well create resentment among other campuses in the system that could feel they were being used to allow UNC-CH that freedom.
And what of the North Carolina natives who felt they were denied admission because of the larger percentage of out-of-state students? Again, Ross said that no spots would be cut but that enrollment could be increased. Thats a tough case to make in current budget times. And though out-of-state students would bring in more money, all taxpayers in North Carolina supplement the educations of all students at public universities.
The out-of-state percentages at many public universities are higher than the UNC cap. Penn State has 40 percent of students from outside Pennsylvania. A third at Minnesota and Illinois are from out of state. But the numbers are all over the lot.
North Carolinas cap on out-of-state freshmen has been in place for about 25 years. UNC-Chapel Hill (which has been the chief advocate for raising the cap) has continued to prosper and continued to raise its academic standards. Its a tough admission to gain for all but the best students in the state now. Theres not evidence, in other words, that the cap has in some way hurt the quality of the public institutions.