Minnesota should aim to be a talent magnet, the late Gov. Elmer L. Andersen often said. One strategy he favored: Charging full-time undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota a single tuition rate, no matter their state of origin.

That made sense, he argued, because on average around the country about two thirds of college graduates live and work near their alma mater. The U Alumni Association reports that 61 percent of Twin Cities campus alumni are Minnesotans.
The U’s Board of Regents didn’t fully follow Andersen’s advice. But beginning not long after Andersen’s death in 2004, it narrowed the gap between resident and non-resident tuition, in hopes of making the University of Minnesota more attractive to top students from other states. The policy has worked. President Eric Kaler told Capitol reporters at a briefing Friday that non-Minnesotans account for a sizeable share of U’s 9,000-student enrollment gain in the last decade.  
But low nonresident tuition recently came under fire from state Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Lindstrom, who argued that Minnesota taxpayers deserve a deeper discount. Kaler voiced sympathy for that position.

“It does seem low to me,” Kaler said of the $18,774 charged nonresidents for a year of undergraduate study, compared with $13,524 for Minnesota residents. He said he has initiated work on a proposal “to be more representative of the situation in the Big Ten.” Minnesota’s nonresident tuition is now lowest in the Big Ten; Kaler said he’d prefer to see it at or near the midpoint.

Kaler and the Board of Regents should proceed with caution. Charging nonresident students more would help the U’s bottom line in the short term. But it might not be advantageous to the state in the long term. Demographic forecasts have long predicted a shortage of well-educated workers in Minnesota later this decade. University of Minnesota nonresident enrollment gains can mitigate that problem, and should not be reversed.