Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten raises out-of-state interest

By Dan Holtmeyer

Daily Nebraskan, U. Nebraska via UWIRE

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln hasn’t joined the Big Ten Conference yet, but the move is already sending ripples through the country, with UNL becoming more attractive than ever to out-of-state high school students.

With such invigorated recruitment, university officials are expecting a bump in enrollment thanks to a shift in UNL’s recruitment pool from the Big 12 Conference, especially Texas, to northern states like Minnesota and Illinois. That increase in the number of out-of-state students could potentially impact UNL’s tuition, financial aid and scholarship awards, according to Craig Munier, director of the Scholarships and Financial Aid office.

As Alan Cerveny, UNL’s dean of admissions, told the Lincoln Journal Star last month, out-of-state interest in UNL from has already spiked – the percentage of next year’s accepted class from outside Nebraska is the highest ever, and recruiters venturing into Big Ten territory are encountering unprecedented hospitality.

Munier said much of that impact is due to one word: money. UNL’s total cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, room and board and other payments is exceptionally low among Big Ten schools.

Only the University of Minnesota has a lower total cost for other states’ students. By itself, the University of Michigan’s out-of-state tuition, the most expensive of the conference, eclipses UNL’s total cost by almost $10,000.

“I do think we will be seen as a value,” Munier said. “And we are a value.”

Munier said the circumstances for Big Ten schools also could play into UNL’s favor. Big Ten schools can’t accommodate all of their potential students, Munier said, and thus have had to tighten admissions standards.

For example, the University of Illinois has more than 30,000 undergraduate students, or 50 percent more than UNL, yet serves a state with six times Nebraska’s entire population.

UNL, with its long tradition of accessibility, doesn’t have the same problem.

Pat McBride, an associate dean of admissions, said the Big Ten name and reputation lends still more strength to the excitement over Nebraska.

“(The Big Ten name) shows where the top research, land-grant, flagship universities are located,” McBride said, adding that people are taking notice. “They’re stopping to look a bit more.”

Munier agreed, taking the perspective of an investor in a UNL education as the university joins what he called “some of the very, very best public, four-year research universities.”

“I would argue that the University of Nebraska’s stock will go up based on (its company in the Big Ten),” he said.

Whatever their reasons, a larger student body will likely add to the burden of aid and, according to Munier, could potentially shift the playing field of financial aid and scholarships, though the university’s system of aid could mitigate those effects. He focused first on need-based grants.

“We have about $5.5 million of institutional gift aid … and it’s almost exclusively for residents,” Munier said. The small portion that is available to out-of-state students is part of UNL’s university tuition assistance grants program, or UTAG. Those students must meet several academic requirements to gain access to these funds.

Most of that aid money, along with funds from the state and Pell grants distributed by the federal government, would not be impacted by any surge in out-of-state enrollment, Munier said.

The same was true of most merit-based scholarships as well, since they are generally only available either within or without the state line. The one scholarship available to both in- and out-of-state students is the National Merit or Chancellor’s Scholarship, which pays tuition and an additional stipend.

However, some would say increased out-of-state attendance has a possible negative impact on tuition, Munier pointed out.

“I think that, given our comparative cost to the Big Ten … there will be some who will argue that, in making that comparison, the University of Nebraska may be overpriced,” Munier said.

The possible outcome of that argument is higher increases in tuition, which by itself isn’t necessarily unusual or problematic when it comes to need-based aid, according to Munier.

“We have an agreement that this (aid) will increase that same percent,” he said.

That arrangement does not take into account a simultaneous increase in tuition and enrollment, however, and UNL could experience both.

“Any substantial enrollment growth will have to come out of state,” Munier said, a scenario he thought likely. With Knoll Residential Center and other residence halls completed or in the works and downtown apartment construction, “lots of people are anticipating this being a bigger place.”

An increase in tuition and enrollment could counteract any matched raise in aid money and distribution, potentially leaving each individual student with less need-based aid.

And that’s not even the biggest concern when it comes to financial aid. With the economy still without its former strength and Republicans in Congress eying of federal aid for budget cuts, “students will be asked to bear a slightly heavier burden next year,” Munier said of a situation akin to the double blow of salary cuts and higher gasoline prices for some Americans.

He said additional students can mean more aid given out, but also more tuition taken into university, actually offsetting any aid strain. Any additional revenue should be arranged to help the university remain open to qualified students of any income bracket, but Munier said those plans hadn’t been made yet.

“That is a discussion that we need to have as an institution,” he said.

Once that discussion happens, increased enrollment could help the university avoid possible aid shortages and deal with a flat state budget for Nebraska’s universities. Munier was confident that, instead of out-of-state students increasing competition, the University of Nebraska would maintain its accessibility to Nebraska students.

“That’s part of our mission,” he said. “I think it is something that we all have to keep in mind.”

McBride agreed, saying he hadn’t heard any rumblings of increasing admission standards. To him, the Big Ten move would bring a somewhat larger flow of out-of-state students and would ultimately be to UNL students’ advantage.

“People are very positive that we’re joining the Big Ten,” he said. “This is just going to be another bonanza.”

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