MSU junior Allison Yu, right, serves freshman Monica Dickow at Brody dining hall last week. MSU reports record enrollment this fall. It is expected to top 49,300 this year, an increase of 1 percent from last year. (David Coates / The Detroit News)
As enrollment counts roll in at Michigan public universities this fall, some schools are announcing record figures as out-of-state students boost campus populations.
Schools with all-time highs range from the state’s largest university — Michigan State University — to smaller schools like the University of Michigan-Flint and Eastern Michigan and Grand Valley State universities.
The drivers of this trend are numerous, officials say, but what stands out is the growth of out-of-state and international students as the percentage of in-state students declines.
This shift occurs as multiple issues collide in higher education, especially Michigan’s need for a more educated populace and dramatic reductions in governmental support to universities. Such aid cuts result in students shouldering a greater share of tuition; out-state and international students pay higher rates, which helps schools’ bottom line.
Many in higher education believe university enrollment growth and diversification is a positive phenomenon for Michigan.
“A majority of our graduates, whether (they are from) Michigan or out of state, stay here after they complete their degrees,” said Matthew McLogan, vice president of university relations at GVSU, which enrolled a record 4,124 freshmen, plus 1,260 out-of-state and 378 international students. “We like to think we are a net importer of talent, and that helps a state with a declining population.”
Earlier this year, the Detroit Regional Chamber released a survey of graduates at the state’s 15 public universities showing that 63 percent of young mobile talent stayed in Michigan six months after commencement — up from 51 percent in 2007.
Of those graduates who remained in Michigan, 71 percent attended a Michigan high school while nearly 25 percent were from outside the state.
“Michigan residents are staying here more than out-of-state or international students,” said Kurt Metzger, director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit, a data analysis organization.
“It is helpful for the state to bring in out-of-state and international students. Michigan needs to import folks since we are aging. But we have to do a better job of holding on to them.”
The universities are competing for a smaller pool of high school graduates each year. The number of Michigan students receiving high school diplomas peaked at 123,576 in 2008, and is projected to slip below 90,000 in the next 15 years, according to a report issued earlier this year by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
At most Michigan universities, the official head counts occurred last month, so some schools haven’t yet released final enrollment figures, and those that have stress the numbers are preliminary. Most schools with record enrollments attribute it to their programs, facilities and brand recognition.
Overall, enrollment is up at the state’s 15 public universities over the past several years, increasing nearly 4 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to a July report by the Senate Fiscal Agency.
During the same time, in-state students decreased 4 percent while outstate and international students each increased about 1 percent.
Out-of-state and international students pay double or even triple the tuition cost of an in-state student.
Tuition is nearly $13,000 for a resident freshman at MSU, where enrollment is expected to be 49,300 this year. Out-of-state and international students pay about $35,000.
The price difference is similar at other universities.
The rise in non-Michigan enrollment is complex, and isn’t attributable simply to a small population of students who pay more, said Jim Cotter, MSU admissions director.
Even if it could, out-of-state students will never make up for the billions lost in state funding over the decades.
“When you look at nonresident tuition, that is part of the equation,” Cotter said. “ ... There are so many influences, anything from a program, to retention efforts to graduation rates rates ... there are so many factors.”
At MSU, enrollment is expected to top 49,300 this year, an increase of 1 percent from 48,906 last year.
The boost came from out-of-state students, up 3 percent from 5,748 to 5,928 — and international students, who grew 9 percent — from 6,599 to 7,163. In-state students fell 1 percent, from 36,559 to 36,252.
Nonresident students are not coming to Michigan universities and taking spots from in-state residents, said Mike Boulus, director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. With the exception of MSU and U-M, the state’s other 13 public universities have room to grow.
However, many in-state students aren’t academically ready to attend a four-year university immediately upon graduating, Boulus said. Often, such students start at community colleges and then transfer.
“No one is turning back qualified in-state students,” he said.
EMU is among the schools that can’t point to nonresident students as factors for growth. At the Ypsilanti school, where incoming freshmen reached a record this year of 2,872 students, international enrollment is flat. Meanwhile, EMU has focused on Ohio residents and offered them in-state tuition.
Among the exceptions to the growing enrollment trend are Wayne State and Central Michigan universities and the state’s 28 community colleges.
WSU’s enrollment is down again this year to 27,897, a decrease of 10 percent since 2009, when enrollment was 30,820, and a 4 percent drop in the past year alone.
Wayne State officials attribute the drop this fall to a new admissions policy that tightened academic standards. Even so, the school’s international student population jumped 15 percent since last year.