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Kansas Hopes To Convince California Students To Trade Beaches For Cheap College Tuition

Kansas universities are looking beyond the Midwest — as far out as California — for out-of-state students to fill their classrooms.

But other states are competing just as hard for Kansas students.

For more than 20 years, the Midwest Higher Education Compacthas lowered the barrier to Midwestern students studying at other universities in the region. Out-of-state students can pay two or three times as much for their tuition at a Kansas university. But over the years, those rates have been discounted for more and more states.

Kansas fell well short of its college enrollment goalsin recent years. Recruiting students from outside of the state is one method to raise those numbers.

But while Kansas draws college students in, other states pull Kansas students out.

States across the country are also lowering their out-of-state tuition rates to increase their enrollment as well. That's led to Kansas having to work harder to recruit more out-of-state students.

The recruitment tug-of-war for students has escalated for the last decade.

"Kansas families are cost conscious," said Pat Bosco, dean of students at Kansas State University. "When great schools out-of-state are offering discount programs, our families in the state of Kansas are looking."

K-State has a new proposal to its discount program. Students from California, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Colorado and Texas with a strong high school GPAs would be eligible. Tuition would be 50 percent higher than the in-state rate, but less than the full out-of-state rate.

The Kansas Board of Regents will vote on the plan Wednesday.

Most of the recruitment efforts by Kansas universities have focused on states in the region. But California has been a target for many states.

Many California colleges have relatively high tuition and spend most of their financial aid dollars on high-need students rather than merit scholarships. That's made it easier for other states to recruit high-achieving students from the Golden State. 

"California has been a prime target of basically everyone," said Steve Burd, senior policy analyst with the think tank New America.

Universities are also incentivized to go after high school students with high marks from other states. Successful graduates can raise the college's ranking with organizations such as U.S. News And World Report.

Donations to the university from alumni also raise rankings, incentivizing schools to recruit students from wealthy out-of-state families.

"Colleges compete fiercely to move up the rankings," Burd said. "Schools can raise their ranking by getting wealthier students and better academically performing students."

Kansas students pay less for their in-state tuition because their families have paid into the higher education state fund through taxes for years. Yet lowering the rate for out-of-state students could help Kansans by attracting more students and their tuition dollars to state universities.

Because enrollment at Kansas universities is lower than the schools want, Kansas students don't have to worry about Californians taking their spot.

"If the plane is going to fly anyway, what should the price be for potential customers to fill those empty seats?" asked Thomas Harnisch, the director of state relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "The same could be said for colleges and universities that have extra capacity." Stephan Bisaha reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on @SteveBisaha.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to 

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Stephan Bisaha is a former NPR Kroc Fellow. Along with producing Weekend Edition, Stephan has reported on national stories for Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as other NPR programs. He provided data analysis for an investigation into the Department of Veteran Affairs and reported on topics ranging from Emojis to mattresses.
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