Out-of-state students double at Mesa

Mesa State College led all Colorado four-year colleges and universities in rate of out-of-state enrollment growth between fall 2002 and fall 2010, according to data released last month by the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Mesa State enrolled 912 students from outside the state last fall, nearly double the 460 out-of-state students enrolled at the college in fall 2002.

Enrollment overall in the Mesa State system, which includes the Grand Junction and Montrose campuses as well as Western Colorado Community College, grew by 46 percent, or 2,552 students, during those eight years.

Non-resident students are a hot commodity for college recruiters. For one, they pay more tuition — as much as $10,178 a year more at Mesa State — than in-state students. That’s no small matter when the state has cut higher-education funding to $519 million for the upcoming school year, a 20 percent drop from the state’s contribution to public colleges and universities four years ago.

Out-of-state students can also make a school more appealing to prospective students overall by adding a different perspective to the student mix, according to Mesa State President Tim Foster. Even if the current ratio of 11 out-of-state students for every 89 Colorado students at Mesa State remained firm, each 1 percent increment of enrollment growth at the college would equal $400,000 in gross revenue for the school.

Foster said the college’s first priority is to educate western Colorado students, and he doesn’t plan to refuse any regional applicants in order to accept more out-of-state scholars. But the school’s bump in non-Colorado students did not happen by accident.

Mesa State has an admissions counselor embedded in California, according to Foster. Having an out-of-state counselor helped Mesa State increase its tally of California students from 49 in fall 2006 to 153 in fall 2010.

“California is a good opportunity because of the extreme challenges on their higher-education system. They have enrollments getting capped, and tuitions are going up,” Foster said.

10,000 enrollment?

California surpassed long-time leader Hawaii as the state sending the most nonresident students to Mesa State. Ninety-two Hawaiians attended Mesa State last fall, as well as 113 students from Wyoming, 74 students from Utah and 69 students from Arizona.

“We’ve always recruited out of state. We’re just doing a better job of it than in the past,” Foster said.

Foster said in five years he could envision the school having 10,000 students, 1,500 of them from outside Colorado. He said the name change to Colorado Mesa University should help recruitment because more out-of-state students will know where the school is located. But it may pose some challenges for recruiters, who tend to find the best fit for Mesa State, regardless of what state they come from, is how much they like living in a small city and having small class sizes.

“University may be something to overcome because it makes people think ‘prestigious’ but also ‘big,’ ” Foster said. “Now we have to work harder to tell people who we are.”

CU’s reach

Mesa State isn’t the only school looking for out-of-state students. The University of Colorado at Boulder has the densest concentration of out-of-state students in Colorado, with one-third of the 30,877 students it had last fall coming from outside the state.

The school is allowed by state law to pluck 45 percent of its freshman class from other states, and it often gets close to that average. Some students choose the university on their own, but CU recruiters travel to 37 states to pick up more applicants, according to CU Admissions Director Kevin MacLennan.

“In this competitive game of college admissions, we’re all seeking the best and brightest and most diverse,” MacLennan said.

He said the extra tuition from nonresidents has been beneficial for the school, which receives a small portion of its budget from the state.

“It’s so much more expensive (for nonresidents) that it has helped our campus fund academic programs and keep academic quality high,” MacLennan said.

Fort Lewis College also gets nearly one-third of its students from outside the state, particularly New Mexico, California, Alaska and Texas. Fort Lewis spokesman Mitch Davis said the school has more than 80 clubs because involvement tends to help students far from home feel involved and stay in school.

Davis said the school doesn’t plan to make any more budget cuts in the next few years as others struggle because “we’ve budgeted conservatively over the past two years.”

In-state emphasis

Not every school is clamoring to increase its portion of out-of-state students. Cathy Lucas, spokeswoman for Metropolitan State College of Denver, said the school has no plans to change its makeup of 97 percent in-state students.

“It’s never been an issue for Metro” to recruit out-of-state students, Lucas said, “because that’s never been our role in admission.”

Unlike Mesa State’s name change, Lucas said Metro’s attempt to change its name to Denver State University earlier this year had nothing to do with out-of-state recognition. Lucas said the name change, which may be tried again with a new bill in January, had more to do with letting Coloradans know the school offers four-year degrees and graduate programs.

The number of out-of-state students at the University of Northern Colorado dropped by 87 in 2010 compared to 2006, but that’s not cause for concern, according to UNC spokesman Nate Haas. Haas said the school carved out a niche as a school that appeals to Coloradans, and the university’s mission is to give students a proper fit, not to charge them more.

UNC has approached budget cuts by implementing a hiring freeze and cutting back on travel and technology purchases.

“Last fall, we engaged our entire campus to look at cost savings. We had several hundred ideas come in, and we took some action based off of that,” Haas said.


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