A collage of photos taken near University of Oklahoma dorms. Credit: Lindsay Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

In a little more than a decade, the number of out-of-state students attending Oklahoma’s public universities and colleges has more than doubled as schools increasingly rely on nonresident tuition to supplement their budgets.

From 2000 to 2013, the number of nonresident undergraduate students enrolled in public colleges and universities jumped to 22,169 from 10,129, an increase of 119 percent. The nonresidents hail from all 50 states. Nearly half of them are Texans.

Out-of-State Table image

In-state enrollment rose by 12 percent, to 135,842, according to data obtained from the State Regents for Higher Education and analyzed by Oklahoma Watch. That rate matched state population growth.

The portion of what colleges call their “educational and general primary budgets” provided by out-of-state tuition also jumped significantly over the 13-year period.

The enrollment figures do not include graduate or international students.

The out-of-state tsunami is even more pronounced at Oklahoma’s two research universities. At the University of Oklahoma main campus in Norman, out-of-staters accounted for 32 percent of undergraduate enrollment last year, and their tuition provided 16 percent of the primary budget. At Oklahoma State University, nonresident students made up 26 percent of the undergraduate student body and covered 22 percent of the costs.

Higher education officials and experts say the striking growth in out-of-state enrollment is attributable in part to the comparatively low cost of attending college in Oklahoma, even for nonresident students who pay higher tuition rates.

It also reflects a history of shrinking financial support from state lawmakers. State appropriations provided 40 percent of undergraduate primary budgets last year, compared to 62 percent in 2000.

Former OSU President James Halligan, now a state senator, said he doesn’t view the rising nonresident student population as a cause for concern.

“I’m a Jefferson fan, and when Thomas Jefferson set up the University of Virginia he specifically indicated that they should welcome students from other parts of the United States,” said Halligan, R-Stillwater. “Students have a chance to interact with others who have a different viewpoint.”

One independent finance analyst, however, said he considered the trend worrisome.

Jonathan Small, vice president of policy at the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, said he fears colleges are signing up more out-of-state students to make themselves less vulnerable to competitive cost pressures.

“I think it’s a concern that particularly our two most important universities are becoming more and more reliant on high tuition that comes from out-of-state residents,” Small said. “It’s going to be particularly hard for our two research universities to adjust to that once they see a decline in that population.”

Tuition Revenue, All Public Colleges

State appropriations for Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities have declined as a share of their total budget. Resident and out-of-tuition portions have grown. Tuition figures do not include mandatory student fees.

 2000 2013 
Amount (in millions)PercentAmount (in millions)Percent
Educational and General Primary Budget$1,098$2,154
Resident Tuition$17916%$49623%
Nonresident Tuition$555%$23311%
State Appropriation$68162%$85140%
Source: Oklahoma State Regents For Higher Education

Surging Nonresident Enrollment

System-wide, out-of-state students accounted for 14 percent of total undergraduate enrollment by the fall of 2013, up from 8 percent in fall 2000.

OU and OSU are not the only schools with outsized out-of-state enrollments. At Langston University, nonresidents made up 40 percent of the student body last year. At Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, half the students were nonresidents. (Oklahomans outnumbered nonresidents there by a mere 13 students.)

While most public colleges and universities have had rising in-state enrollments since 2000, the in-state headcount has actually declined at 10 of them.

OU recorded a 7 percent drop in in-state undergraduate enrollment from 2000 to 2013, losing 995 residents while gaining 3,467 nonresidents. The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha saw the largest percentage decrease in in-state enrollment at 42 percent.

OU President David Boren, like Halligan, said the influx of nonresidents doesn’t mean Oklahomans should worry about an out-of-state takeover.

“I believe that in no way does it discourage in-state students from attending,” Boren wrote in an email. “In-state students continue to receive lower tuition and fees rates than those from out-of-state.”

A spokeswoman for the State Regents for Higher Education said Chancellor Glen Johnson and other state board officials were not available for comment on the enrollment trend.

In 2013, tuition from out-of-staters, including graduate and international students, generated $233 million and provided 11 percent of primary budgets. In 2000, it generated $55 million and covered 5 percent of costs.

At OU and OSU, revenue generated by tuition and fees from out-of-state students surpassed tuition payments by in-state students in 2013. OSU collected $22 million, or close to 40 percent, more in nonresident tuition than resident tuition.

The Affordability Factor

Tuition rates vary from college to college. Nonresidents typically pay anywhere from two to four times as much per credit hour as Oklahoma residents.

OU, for example, charges resident students $132 per credit hour and nonresidents $245 per hour. Those figures do not include room and board expenses or mandatory fees paid by all students regardless of residence.

At OU, a typical out-of-state student taking 15 credit hours per semester would pay $21,105 in tuition and fees every year, compared to $8,916 for a resident Oklahoman. With book costs and university housing added in, a typical out-of-state student could wind up paying about $30,700 per year, compared to about $18,500 for an in-state student who lives in university housing.

On June 26, the State Board of Regents approved statewide tuition and fees increases. Every school except OSU and Western Oklahoma State College in Altus raised tuition rates for nonresident and resident students by an average of 5.8 percent.

Even though out-of-state students wind up paying considerably more than residents, Oklahoma colleges are still a relative bargain, according to higher education officials and observers, particularly when cost of living is factored in.

Statewide, 48 percent of last year’s out-of-state undergraduates were Texans. Former OSU President Halligan said many Texans are coming north because the largest universities in their home state are approaching full capacity.

Nonresident students interviewed by Oklahoma Watch cited a variety of reasons for moving to Oklahoma. Some received sports and academic scholarships. Some said they felt drawn to a particular university or town. Some said the schools in their home states weren’t a good match.

“I think kids want to experience other parts of the country,” said Miranda Reed, an OSU nonresident sophomore from Missouri.

Reed’s home state has a program called A+ that pays for students to attend in-state community colleges if they maintain a specified grade point average. But that wasn’t enough to stop Reed, who received academic and sports scholarships from OSU, from moving to Stillwater straight from her Licking, Mo., high school to join the Cowboys’ equestrian team.

Possible Tipping Point

Higher education officials and analysts said they don’t think the current levels of out-of-state enrollment are high enough to sound alarm bells in the minds of Oklahoma residents — and lawmakers.

But should the bigger universities ever hit the 50 percent mark, that might be another matter, Small said.

“Then people will start to ask a legitimate question: Are you gearing your university … to in-state students or out-of-state students? I mean, it’s just the law of free markets. Your largest customer is who you cater to.”

Boren said he doesn’t think OU will ever enter that danger zone.

“We would always want a majority of our students to be from inside Oklahoma,” Boren said.

Warren Vieth contributed to this report.

Burden is an OU journalism senior who is interning for Oklahoma Watch. She is from Decatur, Texas, and pays nonresident tuition. She can be reached at rburden@oklahomawatch.org.

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