COLUMBIA, Mo. - Should it be a point of pride that more than 20 percent of the University of Missouri at Columbia's freshman class is from Illinois, and that about 35 percent of the class overall is from out of state?
A decade ago the university had 318 freshmen from Illinois; this year's total is 1,370.
This was the first year that MU received more out-of-state student applications than in-state ones.
On one hand, administrators at the University of Missouri should be commended for their creativity. But this is a bad trend for higher education.
There's only one reason Missouri wants these students -- and it has little to do with education. It's all about the greenbacks.
Illinois students pay out-of-state tuition rates, which are roughly about twice as much as those paid by state residents. This year's tuition at Mizzou for a state resident enrolled for 14 credit hours is $9,272. That same student from Illinois, or anywhere out of state, pays $22,440.
For a state that spends as little on higher education as Missouri, those dollars are important. Tuition accounts for 60 percent of Mizzou's operating funds. Twenty years ago it was only 25 percent.
State funding has been declining as a percentage of overall funds for colleges and universities in Missouri for years, and long before the nation's current economic difficulties.
That has made college less affordable for the middle class. It's caused state universities to look outside their borders to meet expenses.
"It helps us balance our budget. If we had not brought in more out-of-state students, maybe we would be laying off people," Ann Korschgen, a vice president at MU, told the Kansas City Star. "It's extra millions of dollars. Huge."
Ms. Korschgen said the high out-of-state enrollment does not mean qualified Missouri students are not welcomed. She said there is neither a waiting list nor a cap on admissions.
Another reason Missouri gives for recruiting so heavily in Illinois is that the state's graduating classes are shrinking and the pool in the more heavily populated Illinois is not.
Missouri had 10,634 applications this year from out-of-state students, compared with slightly more than 8,000 last year.
A Chicago Tribune analysis of U.S. Department of Education data found that nearly a quarter of of Illinois' high school graduates are leaving the state to go to college, up from 17 percent 10 years ago. The University of Iowa has generally attracted the largest number of students from Illinois and was no exception this year with 1,500 students from Illinois.
Michael Barron, admissions director at the University of Iowa, says that while Missouri is the hot draw now for Illinois students, Iowa and Indiana have long gone head-to-head recruiting Illinois k ids.
Mike Reilly, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, says Missouri is not unique and that recruiting across state lines has become a national trend in the wake of diminished state revenues.
Missouri hasn't limited its out-of-state recruitment strategy to Illinois. The university is pressing hard in California, where high school students are looking to escape the state's soaring college tuition rates. Tuition at California's public universities has tripled in the past 10 years.
MU is also hard at work trolling for students in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota. While the school's prestigious journalism program has long drawn students from across the country, today's students are coming for programs across the board.
The college campus culture ought to be broad enough to embrace the Chicago dog as well as the St. Louis toasted ravioli and the Texas two-step. But depending on fishing expeditions to other states isn't the right way to fund education.
Missouri officials are getting off the hook here, but they should be encouraged to stop turning to this resource and develop more ways to fund higher education out of the state budget.
After all, at some point Illinois policymakers are going to wake up and start working to curb their state's brain drain. And then what will Missouri do?