Colleges go on a ‘gold rush’


Their pitches were simple and tailored to the audience.

Come to my college, the out-of-state recruiters recently told high school students in Lakewood, and you will be taught in small classes and you’ll graduate in four years. We’ll even throw in a few thousand dollars just for being from California. And at one school, you won’t even be far from an In-N-Out Burger.

Their attempt at wooing California high schoolers was a not-so-subtle move in a state whose public universities have been hit with severe budget cuts -- $1.6 billion in 10 years -- leading to tuition hikes, enrollment caps and fewer courses.

Meanwhile, nearby out-of-state colleges have reaped the benefits.

Neighboring states have seen an influx of California students enrolling in their universities, and colleges have significantly bolstered their recruiting efforts in the state. By enrolling Californians, not only do these schools receive non-resident tuition, they also increase the diversity on their campuses.


Some schools have doubled the number of Californians in their freshman classes. Washington State University enrolled 132 freshmen from California in 2011, twice as many as the year before. The University of Arizona and Arizona State University each have boasted freshman classes with more than 1,000 Californians in recent years.

The University of Oregon, which enrolled about 500 California freshmen five years ago, has also seen that figure balloon to more than 1,000 in 2011. The university’s increased presence in the Golden State, paired with the wandering eyes of frustrated parents and students, has led to a boon for the school, said Roger Thompson, vice provost of enrollment management.

“The gold rush is on, and in this case the gold rush is for college-going students,” he said. “We’ve got a pioneer spirit at the University of Oregon.”

At the Mayfair High School college fair, students listened to presentations from the out-of-state colleges, ranging from large state schools like Oregon State to small, private liberal arts colleges like High Point University in North Carolina. All the recruiters are based in California, and the membership of their organization, the Regional Admission Counselors of California, has tripled in size in the last three years.

“We are here to show you that there are options beyond the golden fence,” said Gary Bednorz, a University of New Mexico recruiter.

The recruiter from Maryville University, a private school in St. Louis, touted the $5,000 scholarship automatically granted to Californians. The University of Arizona recruiter mentioned that Los Angeles is only an hour’s flight away, and the recruiter from Southern Methodist University in Dallas mentioned the In-N-Out Burger a mile from campus, which drew “oohs” from the students.


“You need money?... We’ll show you the dough at New Mexico!” Bednorz said, to giggles from the students. Patrick Vidican, a 16-year-old sophomore, blurted out “Yes!”

The difference between the recruiter’s pitch and what he has heard from his home state was not lost on Patrick. He’s kept up on the rising tuition and enrollment limitations at state schools and is seriously considering leaving California for college.

“If all these out-of-state colleges are looking for me and want me to go to their college, and the California colleges are just like, ‘eh’ -- they don’t really care -- I would rather go to the ones that really want me, that will pay me to go to their college,” he said.

Kendall Williams, a senior at Mayfair, had his heart set on attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo next fall. He and nearly 37,000 others applied.

With good grades and an interest in science, the school seemed to be a perfect fit. He was rejected. Just 11,533 made the cut. “I was really shocked,” he said. “I really didn’t think I wouldn’t get accepted.”

He soon began receiving emails from Northern Arizona University, asking him to apply. His friends encouraged him look at Arizona State University as well.


Quickly accepted to both, he visited the campuses with his family. He chose Northern Arizona on the spot.

“It’s a small campus and the professors are a lot more personal with their students,” Kendall said. “And it’s not too much more expensive than California schools.”

By taking advantage of a program called Western Undergraduate Exchange that gives students from select states lower out-of-state tuition -- which will remain the same all four years -- as well as scholarship money and lower housing costs, the price tag will be comparable to attending a Cal State and cheaper than attending a University of California school, said Christina Williams, his mother and a teacher at Mayfair.

The UC system has begun boosting controversial efforts to enroll more out-of-state and international students to help bridge budget gaps caused by funding cuts, displacing some would-be students from the state. UC offered fall entrance to 43% more out-of-state and international freshmen than last year. This year, the share of freshmen from outside California was 12.3%; UC expects that number to rise.

The Cal State system may have to freeze enrollment at some campuses in spring 2013 and put applicants on wait lists for the following fall if a tax measure on the November ballot fails and the system faces more cuts.

A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that the share of the state’s high school graduates enrolling in UC and Cal State schools dropped by one-fifth -- from about 22% in 2007 to less than 18% in 2010. The report also found that the number of Californians leaving the state for college was increasing.


Thompson, of the University of Oregon, said that his school does not poach these students, but rather that the troubles in California encourage families to consider out-of-state options. Once they learn about his university, he said, it sells itself.

“We may get some students who take a look because they’re concerned about things happening in California,” he said. “When they take a look, they find that Eugene is a quintessential college town, that students graduate in four years, that we help parents control costs, and they find that class sizes are smaller.”

The beneficiaries of this trend, both those who leave the state and those who come in, are students with families who can foot the bill, said Patrick Callan, president of the nonprofit Higher Education Policy Institute in San Jose. “It creates even more advantages for students who have money,” he said.

One of the goals of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, adopted in 1960, was to signal to California students that if they got good grades and scored well on tests, they would be able to enroll in one of the state’s public universities, Callan said.

“Now we’re saying, if you do all that and the economy is doing well and we’re getting money -- then we might have a space,” he said. “That’s a different message.”

Williams wasn’t thrilled about her son leaving the state, but after mulling over the troubles in California, Arizona didn’t seem so far away.


“I would have liked him to stay in state,” she said. “But he’s only a seven-hour drive away, and the Amtrak goes right into Flagstaff. This is a good alternative for us.”