Traditional Student Demand

A Fact Check on Out-of-State Recruitment: Don’t Mess With Texas

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Given the new reality of dwindling high school demographics, many institutions are exploring out-of-state recruitment in markets with more favorable population statistics. Texas, in particular, is an El Dorado of future high school graduates.

According to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), high school graduates in Texas will grow by 5% from 348,600 in 2019 to 364,800 in 2024, compared to, for instance, Massachusetts, where the same population is projected to decrease by 2% from 73,600 to 72,300.

It is not surprising, then, that many institutions are looking to the Lone Star state for students. But is this indeed as good an idea as it seems?

Seeing Red

Figure 1 is a heat map showing out-of-state recruitment. The proportion of students in each state who enrolled at an out-of-state institution (i.e., out-of-state student migration). Green shading indicates that more than half of students from the state enrolled in an out-of-state institution; red shading indicates that more students stayed in-state.


Out-of-State Student Migration in 2016Figure 1.


If you are seeing red, that is because out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 43 retained more than half of their college-bound, high school graduates at in-state institutions. The states with the students who are least willing to leave are Utah (11% went out-of-state), West Virginia (13%), and Louisiana (15%). States that lost most of their high school graduates to out-of-state schools are the District of Columbia (75%), Hawaii (60%), and New Hampshire (58%).

Where does Texas stand? With 21% of college-bound students enrolling at out-of-state institutions, Texas ranks at number 12 among states with the least out-of-state student migration.

Why is it so hard to get students from the Lone Star state to cross the border? One reason may be the large proportion of students who enroll at community colleges. According to the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teacher’s College, 75% of bachelor degree earners in Texas started out at a community college. Another likely factor keeping students in Texas is the generous, state-funded grant and scholarship programs offered to Texan students—as long as they enroll at in-state institutions.

Granted, 21% of a populous student body is still a large number to recruit from, but it will require much effort to identify the students willing to cross borders in a state full of students who would rather stay home. Add to that the increased efforts from other institutions that are trying to recruit these same students, and there are many schools that might want to reconsider their out-of-state recruitment strategies.

Where should they look instead?

Distance Does Not Make the Heart Grow Fonder

Should recruiters simply consult this map and aim for the states shaded in green or yellow, even though they are less populated and may have declining high school populations? We don’t think that’s necessarily a good idea. One factor often-ignored in the quest for out-of-state students is their likely destinations. Where do students go if they do enroll in schools outside their home states?

Figure 2 lists the top destination states of out-of-state students for three states that are in the top 10 for high out-of-state migration in different parts of the United States.


Top Destination States for Students Enrolling Out-of-State in 2016Figure 2.


What becomes evident when looking at this list is that even students who choose to leave their home states for college don’t stray too far from home. Looking back at our Texas example, the rare out-of-state Texan is most likely to enroll at a school in Oklahoma (3% of all Texas students), Arkansas (2%), or Louisiana (1%). Students who are willing to move across country for college are few and far between.

According to the 2018 Eduventures Survey of Admitted Students™, the median distance between students’ homes and their out-of-state enrollment schools is about 400 miles for public destinations and 450 miles for privates—about a five- to six-hour drive.

Love Thy Neighbor(’s Students)

One school that uses out-of-state recruitment migration patterns to its advantage is the University of Maine (UMaine). Located in a state with a declining high school population, UMaine dodged the downward enrollment trend many other public institutions in Maine are experiencing. While the overall enrollment of first-time, full-time degree-seeking undergraduates at four-year institutions in the state fell by 3% between 2013 and 2017, UMaine’s enrollment of the same population grew by 6%. How did they do it?

If you find yourself driving along a busy highway in New England, particularly around densely populated areas (or near a college or university), it is hard to miss the bold billboards informing New England students that they can go to UMaine for the in-state cost of the public flagship schools in their states. A good deal for students, and possibly not a bad deal for UMaine. According to its website, this tuition match is also available to students from select states outside of New England, for instance, California (at the Berkeley rate) and Michigan.


UMaine Billboard Ad - Eduventures Wake-Up CallImage 1. UMaine Highway Billboard Ad in Massachusetts (Source: WBUR)


It appears this tuition match program was launched in 2015. Between 2013 and 2017, the out of state enrollment at UMaine soared by 74%. In 2013, 30% of first-time, full-time degree seeking undergraduates at UMaine were out-of-state students. In 2017, that proportion increased to 48%. A great success for UMaine.

The Bottom Line

While UMaine’s recruitment strategy for out-of-state students could be an anomaly and may not be easily replicable, there is a lesson to be learned. That is, if institutional leadership understands student needs, preferences, and behaviors, success can be achieved even in unfavorable circumstances. Rather than solely considering state population statistics, institutions need to understand which students are most likely to attend an institution like theirs, and where these right-fit students are.

Wednesday November 20, 2019 at 2PM ET/1PM CT

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