Illinois' presence shrinks at U. of I.
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.