University of Alabama Out of State Students

How the University of Alabama’s Student Body is Actually Growing

How did the University of Alabama entice out-of-state students to come to Tuscaloosa?  Money.

The University of Alabama is not doing anything particularly special in their approach to expand their student body to the size of the University of Florida or Texas A&M University.  The student population has climbed from 23,878 students in the Fall of 2006 to 37,665 in the Fall of 2016, which is a 57.73% increase in a decade.  There’s nothing special nor new on the campus at The Capstone to attract more students that would never even consider coming to Tuscaloosa, let alone think that a visit to the State of Alabama was in their future.  Some sports journalists actually thought that Nick Saban and the success of the University of Alabama Football Team was making major reverberations in areas that previously would never have prospective students consider the University of Alabama as an academic option.  The truth is that money can change minds quickly and there is nothing wrong with enticing High School students from a region where the scholarships are stingy with an option of reduced debt load upon graduation.  The tactics of the University of Alabama have been tried before and other institutions do it too.  The results are mixed, but no institution has ever been as aggressive as the University of Alabama in pursuing this strategy.

It’s Not Hard to Attract Students North of the “Adjusted Mason-Dixon Line”

The Northeast is not exactly known for having college town environments.  Boston, Philadelphia and New York are large cities that are generally nice places to live, work and play that happen to have colleges and universities.  They are not traditional college towns that are known for extremely close town-gown relations.  Outside of these cities in the Northeast, the notable college towns are Syracuse, Binghamton, Ithaca, New Brunswick, Amherst, Storrs, Kingston, Burlington and Orono.  Sounds a bit gray and dreary, doesn’t it?  Ithaca is quite known for having suicide bridges.  Does it say anything about the mental health of the student body?  Yes, but it also is reflective of a miserable environment that enables such drastic and horrible actions.

Comparing the Northeastern public university experience (not Northeastern University) to the rest of the country is an exercise in contrast.  College towns and college friendly environments are found throughout the country, but not in the Northeastern region.  Compare a SUNY (State University of New York) school to a public flagship university outside of the Northeast and it is such a radical difference.

Affluent suburban students in the Northeast are far more plentiful than in other regions in the country, which tends to go hand-in-hand with better K-12 Public, Private, Preparatory and Parochial Schools.  This lends itself to providing these students with options, the in-state options typically do not provide the college experience that creates that best four years of life sort of experience.  These students want to go where they are treated best and that means amenities, weather, college town life and parts of a university culture that would limit the majority of college applicants.  Student debt is also a major concern and if a student’s parents do not have to pay for the college experience or the student can avoid dealing with student lenders, it is a major swaying factor.

Legacies have no sway in this region and there is no pull based on College Athletics either.  There’s no loyalty to a particular institution in the Northeast, every student is a Free Agent looking for a school to make them a deal. Those that are in the top third of their class in affluent counties can get this deal if they are geographically flexible.  The ones that fail to exercise this great advantage that they have may absorb greater debt and a college experience that is less enjoyable.

New York State has the distinction of being rather large in area, the distance between the affluent suburbs of the New York City and the most prominent in-state public institutions is rather far.  There is a lack of centrality and it stands out in a State that arguably could be as many as five states being connected as one.  The four suburban counties of the New York City area (Rockland, Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk) require quite a bit of travel to Buffalo, Binghamton and Albany.  Only one prominent public option is available to those in the so-called “Downstate”, SUNY-Stony Brook, which is between a 1 hour 45 minute and 2 hour 30 minute ride on the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station.  This should be a longer and more frustrating commute this Summer and Fall.

Port Jefferson, New York to SUNY-Albany


Oceanside, New York to Binghamton University

Chappaqua, New York to the University at Buffalo

Limited local options, proximity to other states and academic powerhouse High Schools provide incentive to these students to go out-of-state.  The Excelsior Scholarship offered by New York State was a response to this issue of students leaving the State, but the creepiness and restrictiveness of the contract to receive the tuition scholarship may turn off those with options.  Serfdom to a State is not exactly appealing.  Underfunded and overcrowded schools with generally miserable environments lack appeal.

If the commute from the student’s hometown to the college town is going to be four or more hours, why not travel just as far or even further and actually get treated better in another State?

The Exodus from the Bos-NY-Wash Corridor is REAL

In August 2016, The New York Times ran an article called The Great Out-of-State Migration, which was really one giant infographic documenting the in-flows and out-flows of college students between the states.

Proximity, quality of local options and affluence feeds into the exodi of all of these states.  The University of Delaware, University of Maryland – College Park, Towson State University, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University – University Park and Temple University are the major recipients of Out-of-State students.  Through a blend of relatively more aggressive scholarships to top talent, easy commutes and well-executed marketing in the New York City Metropolitan area, these institutions are able to balance out the outflows of students to some extent.

It is noticeable that many end up leaving the region altogether.  South Carolina and Florida stand out for their ability to attract students from the region.  In the case of Florida, the students typically have family in Brevard, Palm Beach or Broward Counties.  When it comes to South Carolina, the students that leave for the University of South Carolina-Columbia or Clemson University are often followed by their impressed parents looking to purchase real estate near Lake Murray, Lake Hartwell or Lake Keowee.

The Top 5% of the graduating classes may be electing to stay in the Northeast, but the top third are able to collect scholarships with ease from public universities, if they know where to look and they have figured it out.

Even States with Major Public Institutions Have Outflows

Would it be surprising to read that students from California, Minnesota and Illinois are leaving their home states in droves?  It’s true.  These Progressive States with large percentages of affluent suburbs themselves are exiting as well.  Some of these students are just following their families out and they happen to be considered part of the exodus.

Midwestern states have something that Northeastern states do not, tuition reciprocation.  The Midwest Student Exchange Program enables students to attend a school in the Midwest at a far lower cost than out-of-state tuition, which provides students with more options.  This does make it tougher for schools outside of the Midwest to get students out of the region, but it certainly is not impossible with enough money.  Illinois students can get reciprocity from Kansas State University, University of Kansas, Wichita State University, every University of Missouri campus except Rolla and Columbia, University of North Dakota and North Dakota State.  Minnesota and Ohio students can get reciprocity from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Illinois students, specifically in the Chicagoland area, would be the biggest targets for Out-of-State recruiting especially given the fiscal woes of the State of the Illinois.  Given the problems at the University of Missouri-Columbia (worthy of discussion in a completely different article and it is not an easy fix AT ALL) and the ongoing issues in Springfield, students in the Chicago suburbs will have plenty of options and money thrown in their direction.  The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was known for extremely generous alumni outside of the State giving “loose” money (scholarship funds that were not affiliated with the institution) to incoming students for choosing to attend.  However, the State of Illinois as a whole still has trouble attracting and retaining students whether they choose to be Illini, Salukis or Huskies.

Who is trying to buy themselves a student body?

It becomes obvious which schools are trying to buy their way to a student body with the hopes that they create future donors and build their prestige this way.  Each student is a future lead that would be used for the purpose of enhancing the profile of the school.

Clemson University

Clemson University is known for their desire to jump up the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges & Universities rankings.  In fact, they take it far too seriously.  High standardized test scores help push institutions up the rankings, which means greater fundraising, accolades and influence.

Clemson University has even specifically named their Freshmen Scholarships, “Freshmen Academic Recruiting Scholarships and Grants”.

Non-Resident Merit Scholarship**

  • Domestic out-of-state students with at least a 1320 (EBRW+M) on new SAT or a 28 on the ACT composite and who are ranked*** in the top 10%* of their high school class will receive a renewable merit scholarship of at least $7,500. Students with higher test scores will be considered for these merit scholarships up to $15,000 annually.

Clemson Non-Resident Grant

  • All out-of-state students with substantial financial need, who file the FAFSA by Clemson’s priority date of March 1st and meet academic criteria (at least a 1320 (EBRW+M) on new SAT or a 28 on the ACT composite), will be considered for a renewable $2,500 grant in addition to any other scholarship(s).

In addition to the awards listed above, Clemson considers all admitted freshmen (in-state or out-of-state) for our restricted scholarships, which are usually donated by alumni and other friends of the University and awarded to incoming students. Typically, about 15% of our admitted students are offered one of these scholarships.

This list is not inclusive of all scholarships, eligibility criteria, or renewability requirements.

The high school transcript submitted for admission evaluation will be the same transcript used to determine merit scholarship eligibility.

Test scores need to be received by Clemson on or before March 1st.

* Students applying to Clemson from secondary schools which do not calculate class rank will still be considered for merit scholarships. 
** Students with exceptionally high test scores who are not in the top 10% of their high school class will also be considered for merit scholarships.
***Weighted rank (if applicable) is used in this determination.

University of South Carolina – Columbia

The University of South Carolina-Columbia actively promotes that they offer(s) a generous array of scholarships for non-S.C. resident freshmen.”  

They are not lying.  To go through their scholarship options is a matter of where one falls as far as grades and standardized test scores.   Most of these scholarships do not have a specific limit as to how many are issued, it is just a matter of qualifying.

Mississippi State University

At Mississippi State University, scholarships are stackable, but certain scholarships are specified to not have such a benefit to the incoming student.  Mississippi State University is extremely generous as they offer a wide variety of scholarships both from a general scholarship pool and the scholarships offered by the individual schools within the institution.

What is the “Academic Common Market”?  It is a network much like the Midwestern Student Exchange Program that was created by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).  The Academic Common Market offered by SREB is somewhat different from the Midwestern Student Exchange Program in that only eligible individual programs offered by the participating institutions are worthy of the student to receive a non-resident tuition waiver.  Much like the Midwestern Student Exchange Program, the residency of the incoming student alters the eligible programs that would enable the student the ability to pay in-state tuition.  

For instance, a student from Baltimore, Maryland who wishes to be a Broadcast Meteorologist can attend Mississippi State University and receive in-state tuition because it is one of the four listed majors that are eligible.

In the past, it was much easier to get a full scholarship (tuition + room + board) to attend Mississippi State University and also receive extra scholarships from the individual Colleges, Schools and Departments.

Incoming students can now receive $4,000 to $10,000 per year from the College of Business, which when combined with a Competitive Scholarship could result in a profit for the student.

University of Mississippi

Ole Miss is known for giving away easy money to out-of-state students.  Students who cannot get into the University of Texas – Austin or Texas A&M University – College Station often choose Ole Miss due to their ability to not just get into the institution, but also due to the generous scholarship fund.

This is just the beginning of Ole Miss’ generosity.

Auburn University

Auburn University offers plenty of scholarships, but there is no one specific scholarship that overcomes the full out-of-state tuition on its own.  There are no limits on how many incoming Freshman scholarships that they offer, but they are not throwing around money like the way the previous three institutions do nor are they even close to being as generous as the University of Alabama.  The University of Alabama issued out $101 Million in merit aid compared to Auburn University’s comparatively meager $35 million in 2014-15.

University of Alabama

It’s as simple as meet the criteria, apply by a certain date and receive the merit scholarship offer that applies to the criteria met.  It is not exactly a stressful experience.

Unlike Mississippi State University, students are not allowed to ultimately profit from all of the University of Alabama scholarships issued.

There are other scholarships (alumni, individual schools and departments), but they do not use unusual language like the one used in this description.

Presently, the scholarships are a bit tougher to achieve than they used to be two years ago.

Why does the University of Alabama stand out if others do it?

The University of Alabama stands out among the rest because they have thrown $101 Million into merit aid.  Their approach is to treat top talent across the nation like they are Free Agents and play the role of the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers.

Universities in Alabama (and Mississippi) are at a disadvantage as far as keeping talent in-state due to the lack of a LIFE, HOPE or other lottery-funded scholarship that is found in other Southeastern states.  The schools make up for it by having clear criteria and automatic scholarships upon meeting them.

In Fall 2014, the University of Alabama officially had more out-of-state students than in-state students.   This past 2016-17 Academic Year, 53% of the students were in-state vs. 43% out-of-state.  The most positive part of this development seen by in-state students was improved integration and potential decline of the cancerous Theta Nu Epsilon (“The Machine”).

What is the end game for the University of Alabama?

The University of Alabama took a very adventurous road.  They recruited nationally and were willing to spend money on talent to juice up standardized test scores of students, which would entice out-of-state students to pay full tuition down the road because of their U.S. News & World Report ranking and alleviate budget cuts.  Yes, it is all about investing money into the future of an institution that was facing decreasing funds and decreasing in-state students.  Remember, the State of Alabama lags behind the rest of the nation academically on a K-12 basis, which means the pool of talent is far weaker and shallower than other locations.

From’s article “Out-of-state students outnumber Alabama residents at the University of Alabama”:

“Since 2008, the same year in-state student enrollment peaked, the state has slashed nearly $556 million from higher education funding, some 28 percent. 

As UA looked elsewhere to make up for lost state appropriations, their net tuition revenue doubled from 2008 to the 2012-13 fiscal year, from $193.5 million to $386.9 million, even as the school maintained generous scholarship giving that nearly triple over the same time period. 

Data indicates UA has one of the lowest in-state student populations among its SEC peer institutions.”

Dr. Jack Hawkins in the Alabama Political Reporter put it best to describe what the University of Alabama has appeared to have done in the face of budgetary stress.

“A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows since 2008, when the US economy slid into recession, 46 states spend less per student than before the recession. Alabama ranks fifth on the “hardest hit” list, as we have cut higher education by 36 percent since 2008. At TROY, our annual appropriation fell from $62 million in 2008 to $49.3 million this year.

This downward spiral of state support defies logic, given that a college degree remains the “golden key” to success. The unemployment rate for 25-34-year-olds who hold the bachelor’s degree is less than 3 percent, while the unemployment rate for 25-34-year-olds without a bachelor’s degree tops 9 percent.

Alabama universities have reacted to the funding cuts by holding tuition increases to a minimum. Still, tuition increased 62 percent at Alabama universities since 2008. The net effect has been to shift the burden of paying for public education from the State to the student.”

Public Colleges and Universities receive funding by their respective states and through the Federal Government to subsidize their activities.  When the State of Alabama cut spending on higher education, the funds had to come from somewhere.  Donors, students and sponsors had to pick up the tab.  Given that the State of Alabama was 46th in Median Household Income in 2014, attracting a more affluent student body with comparatively less tuition was the way to make up for the fiscal and demographic problems.

Many public university systems have quotas on their Public Colleges and Universities.  The University of Virginia has a 66.67% in-state quota of students.  The University of North Carolina has an 82% in-state admissions quota, which makes out-of-state acceptance into the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill extremely difficult.

The University of Virginia and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (despite their academic fraud) are what many public flagship institutions aspire to be.  The aggressive out-of-state push by the University of Alabama has not placed them into the same conversation as these two institutions, in fact, they are still behind Auburn University in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.  In fact, the University of Alabama has declined in the rankings over the past five years.  In 2011-12, the University of Alabama was ranked 75th in the nation and in 2016-17 are ranked 103rd.  Auburn University also declined in ranking from their peak in 2011-12 at 82nd in the nation.  (For most readers interest, the University of Georgia has made no change in ranking since 2010-11 as UGA was ranked 56th then and is ranked 56th now.)

The University of Alabama has jumped up the rankings in Forbes Magazine’s Top Colleges since 2011.  A jump from 369th to 252nd is certainly not shabby, but The Capstone is still bested by Auburn University (196th) and Samford University (197th).  (For the majority of readers’ interest, the University of Georgia was ranked 150th in 2010 and now enjoys a ranking of 95th in the nation.)

Yes, ranking Colleges and Universities has obvious flaws…

The rankings can be manipulated as Clemson University was infamously exposed for doing in 2009 as they went all-in on boosting their status.  The objective is to push research and the pursuit of knowledge on the part of students first, not to manipulate how a few publications evaluate the institution in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.

The aggressive scholarship campaign has been a mixed bag for the University of Alabama thus far.



  • Still behind Auburn University in the rankings within the state.
  • U.S. News & World Report ranking dropped considerably.
  • Future conflicts as the University of Alabama slowly morphs into a private institution.
  • Greater disconnect with the population of the State of Alabama due to 43% of students being in-state.


  • How Alabama Football fans and alumni interact going forward given their massive differences.
  • How an elitist marketing effort toward students in “blue states” works in a populist state.
  • Do the out-of-staters stay in the State of Alabama post-graduation?

The University of South Carolina’s experience with aggressive merit aid.

The University of Alabama is in a very similar situation as the University of South Carolina over a decade ago, except the University of South Carolina was not overrun with out-of-state students.

Since 2000, the University of South Carolina has been recruiting on a national basis with aggressive merit aid deals for out-of-state students.  In 2000, the University of South Carolina was comprised of 23% out-of-state students and in 2017 had 41% out-of-state students.  The State of South Carolina as of 2015 only covers 10% of the institution’s funding.  The University of South Carolina had to turn to out-of-state enrollment and aggressive merit aid to make up for budget cuts in the wake of the Financial Crisis and increased High School dropout rates.

The University of South Carolina-Columbia is ranked 107th by U.S. News & World Report.   It has hardly moved since 2009-10 when they were ranked 110th in the nation.  They were 112th in the nation in 2006-2007.   Believe it or not, they were tied for 93rd in the country with the University of Alabama (based on reputation score) in 2001-2002.

Based on overall rankings, positive effects were minimal due to the aggressive merit aid packages.  Their International Business program remains #1 in the country and nothing changed as far as reputation outside of the fact those outside of the Southeast have greater respect for the University of South Carolina than nearly two decades ago.  The world is flatter and smaller in 2017 than it was in 2001.  Population shifts and technology have done more for the University of South Carolina than merit aid ever could, but it is still necessary from a budget perspective.  The University of South Carolina has found their groove and is not likely to reach the next tier of colleges and universities ahead of them in reputation.  The University of South Carolina will not be joining the University of Florida, University of Texas or even the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities anytime soon.

The Deep South institutions with huge merit aid that have not manipulated the rankings (Clemson University) have not moved much beyond where they are in the Public University caste system in the past two decades.

Massive Merit Aid and the Disruption of Higher Education to Come

In Stephen Burd’s Out of State Arms Race, he points out a key theme for institutions that heavily rely on out-of-state students:

“As a result of these state budget cuts, public universities
are looking for alternate revenue sources. One of the most
attractive options that they have found is affluent out-of-state
students who excel at school. The allure of out-of-state
students is obvious – they pay much higher tuition
and fees than in-state-students.

But why would a school spend institutional aid dollars on
wealthier students? Doesn’t that work at cross-purposes
with raising revenue? The answer is no, and that’s
because providing four $5,000 scholarships to otherwise
“full-pay” students is much more lucrative for schools
than spending $20,000 on one low-income student.
The colleges also know that students and families love
getting merit scholarships (no matter what their size) –
seeing them as a reward for hard work, when schools are
actually giving them out to improve their bottom lines.”

Revenue is king and ensuring that expenses do not exceed revenues is important.  With skyrocketing costs of Higher Education (due to the guaranteed money provided by Federal Student Loans), it is a practical option to choose a merit aid distributor, but the matter of fit and balance need to be factored into the decision as well.

Once the decision to get on the out-of-state merit aid train is made, it seems impossible to get off it.  It places Public Flagship institutions into competition with each other in a desperate recruiting game.  The only hope is that they create a large donor class that helps subsidize the institution so that standards can be tightened and the merit aid only is used to attract elite talent.  If this does not appear to be the business model of a private institution, what is?

With increased distance learning and greater demand for more practicality on campuses, how does this model change?  Aside from money, what can these institutions do when education turns virtual?  They have to rely on their  own reputations and they should be focusing on enhancing their reputations through improving their academic experiences and research.

When public institutions behave like private institutions, they should privatize.  How soon before all major universities follow suit?  How would this change how the public interacts with them?

Massive merit aid efforts are just tuition coupons for Public Flagship institutions in need of greater revenue.  The students taking the largest coupons to minimize costs and using them to fit their academic and professional needs best are the biggest winners.


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