As college applications are sent out, applicants are dealing with anxiety over admission to Virginia’s top universities. While the stomach-knotting is new to these applicants, it has become a recurring issue in the state government.
Now, a proposal to cap out-of-state admissions to Virginia public universities is gaining momentum locally.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors included support for a 25 percent limit on admission and enrollment of out-of-state students in its recently passed legislative agenda. The decision lends support to an ongoing effort led by Fairfax County delegates Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) and Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) in the General Assembly.
“This is something I hear from my constituents over and over again,” Comstock said. “This issue comes up unprompted from families with school-aged kids, their grandparents, their friends and neighbors. Everybody knows somebody affected by this.”
The push for such a measure is particularly strong in this area due to the large number of high-achieving high school students competing for spots at the state’s top universities. For example, at the University of Virginia, currently about half of the in-state students hail from Northern Virginia, according to U-Va. spokesman McGregor McCance.
In Fairfax County, the School Board supported the establishment of a “suitable ratio” of in-state and out-of-state students at state universities in its legislative agenda for 2014, but it does not go so far as to call for a specific cap or quota. Still, Comstock hopes to see support from Fairfax follow on the heels of Loudoun.
“I represent both Loudoun and Fairfax, and I hear about this just as much from my Fairfax constituents as my Loudoun ones,” Comstock said.
A bill proposing a cap on out-of-state enrollment was one of the first bills Comstock introduced after her election in 2009. She has introduced one every year since, continuing to push for expanded access to state schools for Virginia residents.
Virginia law does not currently include a set quota for in-state and out-of-state admissions and enrollment, although it does state that universities that have exceeded 25 percent nonresident enrollment should not increase that percentage further.
Two of the state’s most prestigious universities, U-Va. and William and Mary, each had 33 percent out-of-state undergraduates as of this fall, according to enrollment numbers from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
Past efforts to impose a cap have failed as pressure from universities outweighs the plight of the in-state student.
Schools want diversity on campus, according to McCance. And U-Va. must balance its identities as a state institution and as a national research university.
“We seek to enroll students from across the nation,” McCance said. “Non-Virginians enrich the experience of Virginians and vice versa, both in and outside of the classroom.”
Of course, these out-of-state students also bring higher tuition fees. An analysis of one of the proposed bills showed that implementing a 25 percent cap would add almost 7,000 spots for in-state students at public universities. However, it would cost state universities tuition revenue and the state itself $51 million in revenue from the general fund.
Comstock, though, has not been dissuaded from introducing the legislation again in 2014.
“Schools come in every year and oppose these bills, but we want to continue to hold their feet to the fire and continue to make sure they’re aware of these numbers,” she said. “We don’t want to let up. We want to see this legislation pass. We want people to keep talking, keep pushing — get fired up.”