Public research universities prioritizing out-of-state recruitment in wealthy areas, study finds

A new report examines the recruitment and enrollment patterns of public research universities, finding that 12 of the 15 institutions studied made more recruiting visits to out-of-state high schools than to those in their home state. Supported by the Joyce Foundation, researchers from the Enrollment Management, Recruiting, and Access project also found that all 15 universities focused their out-of-state visits on wealthy, predominantly white communities in metropolitan areas, even after controlling for factors such as student achievement and enrollment size. Out-of-state private high schools also received a disproportionate number of visits.

“Despite a historical mission of social mobility for meritorious state residents, public research universities increasingly enroll an affluent student body that is unrepresentative of the socioeconomic and racial diversity of the states they serve,” the report states. Noting that discussions about college access often revolve around what some students and K-12 schools lack, the researchers say it’s important to recognize that perhaps “enrollment priorities of public universities are biased against lower income communities and communities of color.”

Link between declining state funding and out-of-state recruitment

Those recruiting patterns, the report says, also reflect universities’ attempts to make up for gaps in state funding. Out of the public universities studied, institutions from states with the weakest funding were highly focused on out-of-state recruitment to sustain operations. The report authors call on policymakers to increase state appropriations for public higher education and need-based grant aid to increase the likelihood universities will “prioritize meritorious state residents.”

Speaking with Inside Higher Ed, Ed Blaguszewski, executive director of strategic communications at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said the data on high school visits—gathered by scouring university admissions websites and requesting public records—didn’t necessarily capture the many ways admissions teams might engage with high schools. Other critics agreed, and questioned the small sample size and methodology. The researchers, meanwhile, said they hope college access advocates can use their findings “to start a dialogue with university leaders about the disconnect between stated commitments and actual enrollment priorities.”

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