Let’s talk about the freshman class. This year the University of Oregon accepted a freshman class that, as a group, set a UO record for advanced placement courses taken while in high school and are the most diverse incoming class in history. Of this class, more than 10 percent of them are international students, according to the official press release by the UO. However, the entering class has another distinguishing feature that isn’t mentioned: 47 percent of them are nonresidents — and a significant number of them are Californians.
Since 2007, Californian students have been migrating to the UO in droves. Now nearly 20 percent of the student body (4,780 students) hail from the Golden State. In a few years, it’s possible that half or more of the student body could be out-of-state students. The trend hasn’t just changed the composition of the UO, it’s become a major source of revenue for the University. Last May, the Office of Admissions hired two new admissions counselors who will recruit students in Northern and Southern California.
“My position is brand new,” said Moriah Dunning, admissions counselor for Northern California and the Bay Area. “A lot of Californians come to UO and the admissions office recognized that.”
A lot is right.
“I’m going to high schools and colleges all over and talking to hundreds and hundreds of high school students,” Dunning said. “Most students know about the University of Oregon before I talk to them … It’s not a new college for them. They have friends or family members who enrolled at Oregon.”
Stewart Kraintz, originally from Martinez, Calif., graduated from Oregon in 2012 with a degree in sports marketing. He didn’t pick Oregon first.
“In 2008 when I applied to UCLA, it was my dream school, and in my rejection letter they specifically spelled out that I was one of over 45,000 people applying for 2,700 slots,” Kraintz said.
Oregon could be a better bet for some Californian students than their own public universities. It is notoriously difficult to gain admission to California public universities and, even if accepted, taking the required classes to graduate can pose a significant problem for students.
“My first year as an RA, I had a transfer student from Cal Poly who was 24 years old,” Kraintz said. “He couldn’t get through a series at Cal Poly because each class in the series was only offered once a year, at the same time, and they were prerequisites for each other. He transferred to UO and knocked it out in a year.”
“We have issues with the UC system,” Dunning said. “I’m a native Californian so I’d like to see the UC pull itself up and succeed, but they’re kind of in a hole right now.”
Since the recession of 2008, the University of California schools and other state schools have been scrambling to keep up with a sharp drop in state funding.
Voters came to the aid of the UC system this November by passing Proposition 30, a bill that levies new taxes to fund the UC system and may relieve some pressure on the California schools.
In the meantime, many young Californians continue to look outward for their college experience and some look to Eugene.
Kraintz believes that many students from California find Oregon to be a perfect alternative to UC schools.
“The reality of the situation is that a lot of kids want to go to the big school with a ton of new faces and opportunities to meet,” Kraintz said. “This makes the University much more attractive because you get the same large-school atmosphere at a level of competition that is more attainable for most California students.”
Oregon doesn’t come cheap though. Tuition has risen over $1,000 every year since 2008 for nonresidents and this year it is triple the cost of resident tuition. Despite these prodigious increases, Californian students continue to come in record numbers.
“I think it relates back to the time it takes to graduate,” Dunning said. “If students realize they can graduate from Oregon in four years instead of five or six, they might actually be saving money in the long run or break even.”
The number of students at Oregon with residency has been flat under 14,000 for the last six years. The huge growth at the UO over the last five years has come entirely from how many nonresidents are admitted every year. One result has been that nonresident tuition has become a significant source of income for the University. The trend raises questions about Oregon’s academic mission as a public university.
Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars and a respected writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education said in an email, “There is a lot of controversy about state universities diverting state resources to out-of-state students,” Wood wrote. “Clearly the strategy ‘pays’ for the university in terms of ready income, but it does so by treating the public’s investment in infrastructure as given. Lots of room in that for political recrimination.”
“The Oregon percentage is on the high side (for nonresidents), but lots of state universities are aggressively recruiting out of state. South Carolina enrolls 43 percent out-of-staters,” Wood said when given the enrollment numbers for Oregon in fall 2011.
The UO’s recruitment of nonresidents isn’t unique, but it does reveal a stark reality: public universities are losing public funding and need to keep up with increasing costs by any means necessary.
According to an article published on the Chronicle’s website on Oct. 30, “Public universities across the country are engaged in an all-out war for out-of-state students. Deep cuts in support are driving the search for revenue, and in many states, a stagnating pool of local applications has pushed colleges to recruit broadly.”
Dunning acknowledged that enrollment of Californian students had increased dramatically in the past five years, but said Oregon students need to be the priority. “It’s important as a public institution that we make sure Oregonians are getting their spots at the University first and foremost,” she said.
For now, the migration of Californians to the UO has been beneficial for both parties. The University has been able to compensate for the decline of state appropriations, and Californians have been able to attend a top-tier public university and graduate in a reasonable amount of time. But the UO’s income problems are by no means solved.
At a UO Senate meeting on Nov. 6, University President Michael Gottfredson told assembled senators, “It’s likely that in this upcoming (Oregon governor’s) budget we will not get a significant increase to our state appropriations and I’m sure you’re all aware that we will face some significant cost increases.”
Sounds like Dunning will be busy this year.
An enrollment press release from the Oregon University System: