Six years ago, when University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign officials announced plans to enroll more undergraduates from outside the state, the public outcry was so intense that the plan was scrapped within a week.
But despite the university's pledge then to keep out-of-state enrollment to about 10 to 12 percent, there has been a rapid increase in students from other states and especially other countries. A full 25 percent of students in this fall's freshman class are nonresidents — a share expected to be the new normal for the state's flagship public university, officials told the Tribune.
Although the proposed change in 2006 was met with complaints and calls for legislative hearings, families now may be more willing to accept that the cash-strapped university, facing a decline in state funding, is relying on the significantly higher tuition paid by students from across the country and abroad.
The effect of that shift is clear on the Urbana-Champaign campus. Though today's undergraduate enrollment of 31,900 is 3,600 higher than a decade ago, there are 200 fewer students from Illinois. Meanwhile, the number of international students has soared. U. of I. enrolls 4,447 undergraduates from other countries — up from 649 in 2000.
"We should serve our own state students first," said parent Tom Slivovsky, who has a son at U. of I. and another at Rolling Meadows High School. "It is unfortunate that because of the state of Illinois' finances, University of Illinois' admissions office may need to consider international students and their fees in their place."
The university offered admission to just under 68 percent of Illinois residents who applied for this fall's freshman class, the lowest percentage in the past five years. About 77 percent of out-of-state residents and 46 percent of international students were admitted.
But it's not just that U. of I. is looking elsewhere for students; Illinois students are increasingly turning the university down. Just 45 percent of residents offered admission to this fall's freshman class accepted the spots, a decline from 53 percent five years ago and the lowest percentage in at least 10 years, possibly ever.
A Tribune analysis of U.S. Department of Education data, reported in Friday's paper, found that Illinois' high school graduates are increasingly leaving the state for college, attracted in large part by competitive tuition in nearby states. For the fall 2010 semester, about one-quarter of all first-time students went to schools outside Illinois — up from 17 percent a decade ago.
"I don't see it as a good thing," said Kevin Coy, a college consultant at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in the south suburbs. "We would like to see more kids going to our in-state institutions."
Historically, U. of I. has drawn a relatively small percentage of freshmen from outside the state compared with other institutions in the Big 10. And though the number has grown, it is still among the lowest. The percentages of nonresident freshmen at the University of Michigan, Penn State University and Indiana University have been around 40 percent.
U. of I. admissions director Stacey Kostell said that although the university had tabled the notion of increasing the number of out-of-state students, some of the initial increase happened accidentally. It then became a more intentional enrollment strategy under former President Michael Hogan as state funding declined, U. of I. tuition continued to rise and more Illinois high school graduates opted to leave the state.
U. of I. is still getting about the same number of applications from Illinois students — roughly 17,000 last year — and still admitting about the same number, between 11,000 and 12,000 in recent years. But the university is admitting thousands more nonresidents and international students than in the past — not just for financial reasons, but also to diversify the campus, Kostell said.
"There have been conversations about where we would like to go as far as enrollment. People are comfortable where we are. I think that allows us to serve the population of Illinois, but still have a nice mix," Kostell said.
She said there are no plans to further lower the percentage of students from Illinois. "We would have lots of discussion before we went below 75 percent," she said.
Diane Dean, an Illinois State University education professor who studies college student migration, criticized U. of I.'s enrollment trends.
"It is a concern," said Dean, who is working on an update to her 2006 study of Illinois student migration out of state. "What it shows me is that (U. of I.) is moving further away from its founding mission and purpose, which is to serve this state first."
Kostell said admissions officials are concerned about the students who are declining offers from U. of I., particularly for financial reasons. The university added $12 million to its financial aid budget this year, for a total of $66 million.
U. of I.'s base tuition has gone up 144 percent since 2000, to $11,636 this year. That doesn't include $3,324 in fees and an additional $5,000 for students in popular programs such as business or engineering. With room and board, the total cost can run upward of about $30,000 a year.
Meanwhile, colleges and universities in neighboring states are offering in-state or reduced-rate tuition to Illinois students as well as automatic scholarships to students with top academic credentials, sometimes making it cheaper to leave the state than to stay. The University of Iowa offers up to $4,700 a year for high-achieving students, for example, while the University of Missouri at Columbia gives top nonresidents discounts of up to $5,500.
Chicago-area guidance counselors interviewed by the Tribune all remarked that families increasingly are looking for the best buy when it comes to college.
"U. of I. is not the bargain that it once was," said Jim Conroy, college counselor at New Trier Township High School. Of the 190 New Trier students offered admission to this year's freshman class, about half enrolled.
While in-state applications have remained steady to U. of I., some suburban high schools said fewer of their students are applying. Of the students in the Lyons Township High School class of 2008, 226 students applied and 80 enrolled. In last year's class, 152 applied and 45 enrolled.
The same is true at Downers Grove South High School, which also has fewer students applying to U. of I. — 99 students last year compared with 126 students in 2007, despite similar class sizes, said college counselor Anita Carpenter.
"There are so many choices for kids to go now, and these neighboring states have such great (tuition) reciprocity," Carpenter said. "Our kids will get into most schools. It is now paying for the school that has become increasingly difficult. They are looking to see who will give the most money.
"It's all about the finances now with these kids."
Concern about finances cuts both ways.
At the U. of I., nonresident students pay significantly more — up to $34,022 in tuition and fees this year, not including room and board, books and other expenses. International students must pay a surcharge of up to $2,800 on top of that.
A review of U. of I.'s tuition revenue shows how international students are paying more than their share. Although they make up 14 percent of undergraduates, they contribute 24 percent of the tuition revenue at Urbana-Champaign — or nearly $104 million last year. Five years ago, tuition paid by international students totaled about $31 million.
Cheng Wan, president of U. of I.'s 3,800-member Chinese Students Association, said his parents are paying the steep tuition so he can have a first-rate education. His parents are scientists in Beijing, and Wan, a physics major, plans to follow in their footsteps.
"China gives a good elementary and high school education, but a higher education, Chinese universities don't do a very good job," Wan, 22, said. "The academic environment is really important … so that is why I chose to come to the U.S."
Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, who called for legislative hearings in 2006 when the university talked about increasing out-of-state enrollment, said he realizes the benefits of a diverse environment but is disappointed by U. of I.'s latest enrollment figures.
"I am a little troubled to find out that enrollment is down for Illinois citizens," Silverstein said. "I appreciate diversity, but we still have to give first choice to our Illinois residents who are paying taxes for the school.
"The university should come to the Legislature or give us some statistics about what is going on over there."
Karen DalSanto, whose son graduated from Homewood-Flossmoor High School in 2010, is among the Illinois families that feel slighted by U. of I. Her son, Jack Edelbrock, had an ACT score of 34, was a National Merit Scholar, played varsity water polo and was named the top science student in his high school class.
He was rejected from U. of I.'s biomedical engineering program and instead offered a spot in the civil engineering program. He turned it down to study biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he is now a junior with straight A's, according to his parents.
"We were floored," DalSanto said. "He did everything that counselors told him he needed to go."
The year Edelbrock applied, U. of I. admitted 133 residents, 69 nonresidents and 29 international students to biomedical engineering, the university's most competitive program.
Also unhappy is Bernard Turnoy, whose son is a junior at Deerfield High School with plans to study engineering. "The number of nonresidents and international students is now a little preposterous for a state school," Turnoy said.
As his son prepares to look at competitive colleges and universities on the East Coast, Turnoy is bothered by what he sees as a loss for the state.
"I know some pretty talented kids who were not able to get into the U. of I. It's pretty shocking in fact," he said. "We are pushing our best and brightest out of Illinois, not to return. That not only does the state, but the whole region, a disservice."
All of this is on the minds of high school seniors as the January application deadline approaches. Students who applied by Nov. 1 will learn of the decision Dec. 14.
Seniors at Noble Street College Prep, a charter school in Chicago, listened Monday as U. of I. assistant admissions director Oscar Rodriguez described how students from across the world go to Urbana-Champaign to study engineering, business and dozens of other subjects.
Afterward, students discussed their anxiety about whether they would get admitted and the increase in nonresident students.
"It's good that it's diverse so you see different points of view and perspectives," said Nestor Solis, 18, who wants to study business.
"It makes the school a better place," agreed 18-year-old Javier Castro.
But they couldn't convince classmate Grace Berrios, 17. "It's good for the school," she said, "but not for Illinois students."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times