My post about how colleges are diverging into winners and losers drew a ton of excellent comments you should read. phelmon64 led off by saying:
It’s becoming clear that the distance between the various higher education tiers is getting wider. Ivies at the top, Ivy-equivalent private schools next, followed by public elites, small private liberal arts schools, big public/land grant schools — and then the rest. At some point states can (and must) do their share to help the public elites and land grant types, but I’m concerned about the future for small private liberal arts schools and the “directional state” schools.
Frank the Tank chimed in, talking about Illinois in particular:
I don’t think cutting off support for directional schools is a good thing… but the problem is that it has happened already (particularly in places like Illinois), so it’s already a “here and now” problem. That support has been cut off for public elites and flagships, too, but they generally have larger endowments and research grants to maintain their programs. The educational marketplace seems to be reflecting the universal economic marketplace where there’s a flight to quality and there is a critical mass of winners and an even larger critical mass of “losers” with very little in between.
To be sure, it makes sense in a certain way and we see it play out all of the time in Illinois. When an Illinois resident doesn’t get into the University of Illinois and then has a choice between going to Eastern Illinois or, say, the University of Missouri for not much more in tuition price, that person is choosing the latter more than ever before since that out-of-state flagship has a bigger brand name, higher academic rankings, power conference sports, etc.
Now, as others have noted, this shakeout is already starting with a decline in college-age kids and state support for colleges. Being in Chicago, my kids are hard targets for out-of-state college recruiters because they know, for example, that the sticker price of a state school in Ohio is only a few thousand more than one in Illinois, and that you’re going to pay $38,000 a year out-of-state for a Big Ten school such as Iowa rather than $30,000 a year in-state for a directional school. (And in many cases the Big Ten school is just as close.) SEC schools are recruiting Chicago particularly hard, especially Alabama. Suddenly I see Alabama stuff all over, and I live in Oak Lawn, in a perceived (but not true) lesser educational area.
Frank the Tank adds some stats from one local school to the equation:
One of the Naperville public high schools does put out a list of colleges where at least 4 members of its graduating class matriculate. (The graduating class is about 750 students and it’s almost always in top 10 non-selective enrollment schools in the state in terms of test scores.) Last year, predictably, the University of Illinois and College of DuPage (the local community college) had the highest number of matriculators along with perennial out-of-state Chicago area favorites like Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Purdue. However, there were definitely some out-of-state public schools that have reputations of providing great merit aid that were also on that list (and would have rarely seen 10 years ago) such as Alabama, Missouri, Iowa State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Miami (Ohio), Wisconsin-Whitewater (*not* Madison) and Kentucky. To be sure, it wasn’t all cost-based since there were plenty of notoriously expensive schools on that list, too, such as Northwestern, Michigan (huge out-of-state tuition), Berkeley (ditto) and Colorado (ditto again). However, the pool of out-of-state options that have become “hot” in this area due to competitive tuition pricing has grown very quickly over the past decade.
Who wasn’t on that list? Not a single one of the Illinois “directional” schools. NONE. That would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, but that’s becoming the new reality (and while this is just one example, you’ll see that similarly-situated suburban school districts are showing the same types of matriculation patterns).
This week Crain’s Chicago Business is out with an article that adds another piece of context on this. Illinois is the second leading exporter of high school grads to out of state schools.
Back in 2000, just 20,507 Illinois high school graduates, or 17 percent of the state’s total, exited. But by 2016, that number had jumped to 35,445, or a third, according to a report from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The most recent national figures available from the National Center for Education Statistics show that Illinois had the worst “outmigration” of any state except for New Jersey in 2014.
“There is no doubt that in the last few years we have seen an uptick in students choosing to leave the state,” says Barbara Wilson, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Illinois System. “Part of that is because of the aggressive recruitment and scholarship offers . . . but part of it has to be tagged to our own state challenges.”
Luring students away from Illinois are 115 full-time Chicago recruiters representing about 80 U.S. colleges and universities based outside Illinois. Their Chicago Area Regional Representatives association had just 42 members in 2004 but has grown to become the second-biggest local chapter in their national organization.
Kids leaving the state to attend school isn’t a bad thing and arguably is a good thing, not just for them but for the state. But it’s bad news for the state’s second tier “directional schools.”
What to do about this? The well-respected government finance watchdog the Civic Federation recently floated the idea of shutting several of these schools down.
Potentially even more unpopular is the federation’s call to create a bipartisan commission “to rationalize the state’s higher education system.” The federation notes that six of the state’s 12 university campuses have seen their enrollment drop since 2008, with only two up since 2015: The University of Illinois campuses at Urbana-Champaign and Chicago. With the population of high school students also dropping, the federation says, “The commission should consider the elimination of duplicative higher education programs, reallocation of resources across programs and campuses and the closure or consolidation of campuses.” Particularly weak have been Northeastern, Southern, Western and Eastern Illinois Universities, and Chicago State University. As a first step, the Civic Fed adds, the state should concentrate management of the schools under fewer boards.
Illinois is somewhat unique in that it’s a huge state with really one major state flagship school, the University of Illinois at Champaign. Much smaller Indiana has two public Big Ten schools, as does Michigan. But directional schools are suffering in other states too. Enrollment is down at places like Western Michigan and the University of Akron. This will be a significant challenge for the states, the schools, and the communities that are dependent on these institutions economically. Keep an eye on the pending college shakeout.
P Burgos says
How much of this is just downstream from migration patterns? That is to say, people are still moving south and west, so Illinois (and other states in the region) just have declining populations of college age kids (and also fewer tax paying adults), with a larger share of retirees?
Chris Barnett says
If a higher percentage of students are going out of state, that’s independent of the number…and on a declining student population makes the problem for the lower tier schools even worse.
Rod Stevens says
Having gone away to college and grad schools, I’ve come to realize the importance of staying in the region where they are located, even for the top schools. With costs so high these days, graduates need to get every cent of value out of the connections and name they establish at those places, and those connections are generally concentrated within a couple of hours travel time of those places. For example, Tuck, the business school at Dartmouth, concentrates most of its grads in the I-95 corridor between New York and Boston. Some graduates come out to the West Coast, but far and away the greatest number of recruiters come from nearby. For the Midwest, with its declining industrial and Fortune 500 base, that means fewer job opportunities nearby, especially in places like the Quad Cities. Even if they don’t leave the region, a young person is probably more employable if they have at least grown up in one state and gone to college in another. That way, at least, they have networks in both places.
Your lattermost point is quite relevant in Northern Ohio. Graduates of Akron and Toledo are more often than not looking to start their careers downstate in Columbus and even Cincinnati these days because of the lack of career and fruitful networking options present in those cities. One would think Cleveland would provide more of these types of opportunities itself, but its regional economy remains stagnant, and its professional networks are still fairly closed-off to youth and newcomers.
For what its worth, University of Cincinnati, Miami and Xavier grads all seem to be able to easily get their foot in the door in Cincy, even when they are non-natives, although it still doesn’t necessarily get them past the infamous high school question. On that point, moving up through the ranks seems to be an altogether different issue for non-natives.
As for Columbus, having an Ohio State degree is essentially like having the key to the city, no matter where you are from originally. But even lack of OSU credentials doesn’t constitute a true bar to entry. Think of them more as a discounted lifetime club membership.
This is different in boomtowns where everyone is from all over. That’s what drives boomtowns, the availability of opportunities without having the ‘right’ connections. I say this, because some seem mystified as to why places like Austin, Denver, Dallas, or Nashville continue to have rapid population growth despite being unattractive and uncultured in their view.
P Burgos says
I was thinking along the lines of what Rod Stevens says. Basically the idea is that states around the Great Lakes (maybe with one or two exceptions) don’t have growing tax bases, population bases, or job bases. That would then hit universities in the area in multiple ways. One is in declining support from the states. Another is in declining enrollment simply because there are fewer local high schoolers. Finally, the combination of declining funding and a stagnant economy/population dynamic then provides a little extra push for high schoolers to go to college in another region, and growing population and tax bases affords the growing parts of the country more financial muscle to recruit out of state students.
Chris Barnett says
But to Aaron’s point: this is a Secondary State U problem.
TOSU, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin seem to have no trouble attracting students from in state or out. (In the case of Purdue, especially from outside the US, where the full-tuition students are probably helping to fund Mitch Daniels’ tuition freeze.)
P Burgos says
Sure, but I think Mr. Renn is generalizing the problems of non top tier universities in areas with declining or stagnant populations to the entire country. Where I live (NC) enrollment is up at almost all of the tiers of the state university system, and financially the system is doing just fine. This is why I think that there isn’t a nation wide bifurcation; people are happy to move to a stagnant metro to get a top tier education. But if you aren’t getting a top tier education, it is a whole lot better to be looking for internship and job opportunities in a growing region.
Chris Barnett says
Other large states comparable to Illinois (California, Texas, and Pennsylvania among them) have the same three-tier postsecondary system with Big State U at the top, Former Teacher College U in the middle, and junior college at the bottom. Pennsylvania also has an Ivy on top of the heap, and California has a near-Ivy in Stanford; Pennsylvania’s juco system is not organized as a statewide institution. I don’t know the NY situation well enough to even sketch out what they have.
Texas is a high-growth state. California’s growth is slowing, and Pennsylvania is just keeping on; it’s definitely a Rust Belt state whose boom years are a century behind it. (Pennsylvania also has lots of small private colleges, and the state has generally been a net importer of college students.)
So it would be interesting to read comments from folks who understand the situation in these other big states. Is the lagging performance of the middle tier schools only a Rust Belt phenomenon, or is it nationwide in all kinds of states and markets?
Andrew Kienle says
I am curious about how different models of these state university systems will play out as this cleaving between universities continues to happen. In Indiana, unlike some other states, the “Directional” universities are actually parts of the parent university. Indiana University Northwest is a branch of Indiana University that has IU degrees and shared administration, curriculum and students can easily move between them (when I was at home from IU Bloomington in the summers I often took courses at IUPUI to stay on track to graduate timely and the course credit transferred back towards my degree 100%). I think this model will provide some flexibility because the more integrated systems have the ability to create catered degree offerings by region and also allow 2+2 matriculation where the first two years are completed at a regional campus and the final 2 at main campuses. I think this type of dynamic shifting is more challenging for a “Directional” where all the curriculum, course offerings, administration and brand have to stand alone.
Chris Barnett says
In Indiana the list would include Ball State, Indiana State, USI and Vincennes along. Because IUPUI has branches of all the IU graduate professional schools, I wouldn’t include it.
Chris Barnett says
For context, I’m a current Iowa student.
In addition to the closeness in sticker prices in comparison to some states (especially Illinois), it is (or was) somewhat easy for students to gain resident tuition rates. Until last year, all one needed to do was essentially live in the state, work at least 20 hours/week, and go to school no more than 6 SH/semester. About 500 people, including myself, went though that process last year.
In what I personally find to be a penny wise, pound foolish decision, the requirements were changed to 30 hours per week of work to reduce the number of out-of-state residents gaining resident tuition. While 20 hours a week is reasonable, especially with only 6 SH, 30 hours a week effectively requires one to find a full-time job or string together multiple part-time jobs around a school schedule.
Frankly, Iowa’s universities are the best recruitment device the state has. Fewer out-of-state residents means that there will be fewer college graduates who decide to stick around because they already live here, which in turn means fewer higher-wage jobs, a lower tax base, etc etc.
I honestly don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with reasonably-sized directional schools. Wisconsin and Iowa (UNI) both have schools that seem to be doing alright. In Illinois, there’s surely a market for students who prefer or would do better at a lower-key D2/D3 school; it’s the state’s funding issues that appear to be the problem.
In the case of Illinois, politics really work against the state legislature putting out for directional schools. Chicago legislators likely aren’t too concerned because even if a lot of students do go to school out of state, they’re still coming back to Chicago.
I should note this may not be true of my own college-age kids, who have a strong desire to go outside the U.S., at least for a while. (One is Army ROTC, and the other wants to do infectious disease research.)
There’s going to be a nasty reckoning in this country. If I were a parent of high-school-aged children right now, I’d be looking for private schools that send most of their graduates to the Ivies, Stanford, MIT and Caltech.
The top decile, housed in elite coastal cities, are going to leave the rest of the nation in the dust. It hurts to recognize this, but aside from fat inheritances (now tax free!) those colleges are going to be the only way in.
Chris Barnett says
Or spend the private school money on whatever house one can afford in one of the top 100 or so US public high school districts. Same effect.
P Burgos says
Aren’t top computer science departments distributed throughout public flagship universities? I thought that CS graduates had salaries that put them in the top decile?
Chris Barnett says
Close to 50/50. Out of US News’ top 12, CMU, MIT, Caltech, Cornell and Stanford are private institutions. Berkeley, Illinois, Michigan, Washington, UT Austin, Purdue, and Georgia Tech are public.
Mike Linksvayer says
> Illinois is somewhat unique in that it’s a huge state with really one major state flagship school, the University of Illinois at Champaign.
I went to UIUC long ago, and immediately moved to SF after graduating and remained in the bay area since. But I have long wondered why UIC hasn’t caught up with UIUC. It is approximately 100 years younger (depending on how you count) which seems to matter for top universities, but it has an incredible location advantage.