- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The University of Nevada, Reno doesn’t just want the brightest Battle Born; it is wooing students born outside the Silver State.

“Our mission is to produce graduates with a good global understanding of the world,” said UNR President Marc Johnson. “We want students with a variety of experiences and perspective.”

And that includes students coming from a variety of places. Out-of-state students often do better academically and stand to fill a vital need for Nevada’s workforce.

But out-of-state students who have received discounted tuition cost the university more to educate than they pay. And of the state’s colleges and universities, UNR educated the most discounted out-of-state students, many of whom leave the state after graduation.

With record student enrollment reaching nearly 21,000, the number of out-of-state freshmen entering UNR this fall jumped 17 percent. In five years, UNR’s nonresident undergraduate enrollment has more than doubled.

The growing university has been aggressive and competitive in its reach. It is second only to Northern Arizona University in the number of students who attend as part of a 15-state exchange program that offers tuition discounts.

The school also made national news recently with a marketing campaign to attract a student from Vermont. The small East Coast state is the only one currently unrepresented at UNR.

More than 40 Vermont high school students have applied for a free visit to UNR. It is similar to hundreds of weekend and day trips UNR pays for or subsidizes for high schoolers from out of the area every year.

“One of the worst things that can happen to a state is to become isolated,” Johnson said. “It takes fresh ideas to stimulate everyone’s thinking.”

But it’s not just perspective that makes out-of-state students attractive. They need less remediation and are more likely to graduate.

About 30 percent of UNR freshmen from Nevada need remediation in certain core subjects compared to about 20 percent of students from out of state.

“Those who are most successful and complete college are those who chose to go farther way,” said Johnson. “They have to be more serious about being away from home, paying more, and in some cases feel more responsibility.”

Economically, northern Nevada has to embrace out-of-state students, say leaders.

“We aren’t producing enough college-ready students to fill the burgeoning number of jobs,” said Johnson.

The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada agrees. The public and private partnership recruits businesses to Reno and Sparks. President and CEO Mike Kazmierski said out-of-state students are vital to our economic future.

“We need those students to be exposed to our region, train them and have them become part of the workforce,” he said.

“We have far more incredible job growth than the current population can meet,” he said. “We need our colleges growing the number of students who graduate in science, technology, math and engineering programs . the medical field and others,” he said.

“The university is that pipeline.”

Cost to taxpayers

But there are questions about the discounted tuition many out-of-state students have received through the Western Undergraduate Exchange, a program among 15 states that offer students discounted tuition.

At UNR, thousands of out-of-state undergrads pay a discounted tuition of $9,327 a year, less than half the regular out-of-state tuition, which exceeds $20,000.

Some Nevada System of Higher Education regents, the governing body over the state’s public colleges, have expressed concern that UNR is shouldering too many discounted students. About 70 percent of the 4,202 undergraduates who got discounted tuition at Nevada schools last year went to UNR. Most were from California.

Also, fewer Nevada students took advantage of the program to attend schools in the 14 other states. In 2014, 1,437 Nevada students received discounted tuition elsewhere.

“We need to take a broader look at how we participate,” said Regent Trevor Hayes. “WUE students have been paying 150 percent of tuition and it’s not even covering the cost of attendance.”

He said he is concerned that the state is losing money on these students, most of whom leave Nevada after graduation.

An alumni survey shows that 42 percent of out-of-state students graduating stay in the state. The survey is three years old, conducted before big manufacturers announced moves to Nevada, including battery maker Tesla.

“I think if we did that survey three years from now, it would be a higher portion who stay,” Johnson said.

UNR said it is more likely students who received college degrees in the past were forced to leave the state for jobs.

“It was a significant social problem when industry was focused on construction, gaming and mining,” Johnson said.

“Now we need students with advanced degrees,” he said. “The university is in the right place.”

But Hayes said he hopes it is an issue addressed again at another Regents meeting.

“We have this rapid growth and need more dorms and more classrooms,” Hayes said. “Is that artificial growth if we are selling a product for less than it is worth?”

He said he was also concerned when he looked at the schools that participate in the exchange and how many limit the number accepted.

For example, in California, the exchange program doesn’t include top universities such as the University of California, Berkeley or UCLA. In 2014, only 88 Nevadans attended one of the 14 schools in California, such as UC Bakersfield or UC Merced, included in the program.

“Why are we including our flagship schools, UNR and UNLV?” Hayes asked.

In 2014-15, out-of-state students attending UNR saved more than $30 million in nonresident tuition rates.

There has been somewhat of a correction of that, said Board of Regents Chair Rick Trachok, citing the recent approval by the board for UNR to raise the academic requirements that out-of-state students have to meet to get the biggest discount.

Starting in fall 2016, students with a 3.25 GPA and 26 ACT score will qualify for the discounted $9,325 per year for registration fees. It raised the requirement from a 3.0 GPA and a 22 ACT score. UNR estimated it subsidizes about $3,000 per student at this rate.

Students who no longer meet previous requirements for the full discount would pay 200 percent of in-state tuition — at about $12,400, a rate that covers the university’s cost of educating them.

The university estimated tougher requirements would have reduced the number of fall 2015 freshmen receiving the full discount from 900 to about 250 a year.

“We are a land-grant institution and thus should be serving the students of our state that qualify to attend our university first,” said Caden Fabbi, UNR’s student body president. “I am sympathetic to the university’s struggle at the moment to accommodate for our large enrollment growth, so I understand the administration’s decision regarding this policy.”

But Fabbi said it is important for campus to have students from all states, countries and backgrounds.

“Students from out of state seem to like Reno, and many of them might stay here and contribute to the economy after college,” he said.

Kazmierski said the cost is a budget issue for the state.

“My view is they should not be paying more in-state than they would be paying out of Nevada, but we need to stay attractive to students from outside of the area,” he said.

“We want those students to be educated here and stay here,” he said.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com

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