The Oct. 19 editorial (“Go easy on hikes in out-of-state tuition”) makes several assertions about the University of Minnesota’s tuition policy for nonresident, nonreciprocity students that would benefit from clarification.

The university’s original and still-valid purpose, established in 1851 by the Territorial Legislature, is “to provide the inhabitants of this territory with the means of acquiring a thorough knowledge of the various branches of literature, science and the arts.”

Today, Minnesotans’ annual support of the U through hundreds of millions in appropriated dollars should bring meaningful, affordable access for their sons and daughters. The limited enrollment capacity of the Twin Cities Campus means that for every nonresident, nonreciprocity student admitted, a Minnesota resident is denied that seat.

Is low tuition for nonresidents needed to address a looming, skilled-worker shortage? No. Minnesota will generally see a modest increase in high school graduates in the coming decades. This contrasts with neighboring states that are declining and that see our well-prepared high school graduates as a great source of talent to fill their needs. Nonresidents fill a gap only if no qualified resident students are able to fill open seats, which is not the case at the U.

Minnesota students perennially rank at the top nationally in ACT scores and graduation rates. Even so, thousands of high school graduates from across Minnesota with strong academic and extracurricular records are denied admission to the U, often compelling them to attend college elsewhere.

Remarkably, the editorial anguishes about the risk of Minnesota students taking the place of “lost” nonresident students while at the same time noting that Greater MSP seeks to attract native Minnesotans who have left.

Legislators from both parties and every corner of the state are concerned that Minnesotans with strong academic profiles — whether first-generation college applicants or Gopher legacies — are being denied U admission while nonresident, nonreciprocity student numbers have grown dramatically. The Legislature would be well-advised to ask candidates for the Board of Regents their views on these important issues.

Significantly, low tuition for nonresident, nonreciprocity students has not been the primary cause of the increase in quality nonresident students at the U. Rather, it reflects an increase in demand at virtually all major research universities. Peer institutions with substantially higher out-of-state tuition have seen a similar increase in number and quality of nonresident students, with some seeing a greater increase than the U. They often have a higher percentage of nonresidents at much higher nonresident rates out of necessity, largely because they don’t enjoy the legislative support the U receives.

Unfortunately, the U’s inordinately low nonresident sticker price has diminished its reputation inside and outside Minnesota by unintentionally signaling lower quality and giving the impression nonresident students are more valued than residents.

Minnesota data show that resident students are about twice as likely as nonresidents to stay here after graduation. This makes sense. Minnesota students have family and friend networks here, and they know the climate. If the U solely sought to maximize Minnesota’s talent pool, it would only accept resident students for its limited seats. Of course, nobody suggests that, but claims that nonresidents are the primary hope for Minnesota’s future workforce disrespects our talented residents and is unsupported by demographic reality.

What should the tuition differential be between residents and nonresidents? Tuition for Minnesota students should be as low as possible to provide them access to a world-class education. Tuition for nonresidents should be based on the market, with resources targeted to attract exceptional candidates.

Yet resident tuition rates continue to be an impediment for quality Minnesota students, while nonresident, nonreciprocity tuition is far lower than the market, even for programs ranked among the best in the nation. We must fix this.

The U has long been a top global university, even during its first 140 years as it admitted any Minnesota high school graduate who applied. Meeting its obligation to educate Minnesota residents while attracting a reasonable number of the best and brightest from around the globe serves to strengthen that status.

 

Darrin Rosha, of Independence, is a member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.