Competition for in-state admission remains stiff at Va. universities
College admissions decisions are starting to roll in for Northern Virginia high school seniors, again drawing attention to the competition for in-state seats at Virginia’s top universities.
The fight for coveted spots at state schools has become an annual topic of debate in the legislature and in living rooms across the state.
Virginia law does not set a quota for in-state and out-of-state enrollment at state colleges and universities. However, the state budget bill instructs universities that have more than 25 percent out-of-state undergraduates to avoid increasing their out-of-state population further.
Four schools -- the University of Virginia, William and Mary, Virginia Tech and James Madison University -- have out-of-state enrollment above the 25 percent benchmark.
U-Va. and William and Mary had 35 percent and 34 percent out-of-state undergraduates as of last school year, according to enrollment numbers from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Virginia Tech and James Madison both counted 28 percent out-of-state undergraduates.
Some legislators have advocated for a hard ceiling of 25 percent that would require these schools to increase the share of seats for Virginia students.
Del. Tim Hugo (R-Dist. 40) has introduced several bills in recent years that would have placed a cap on out-of-state enrollment, but each time the proposed legislation has failed under opposition from colleges and universities.
“Putting a cap on institutions for out-of-state enrollment while at the same time cutting the higher education budget, that’s kind of a double whammy,” SCHEV communications director Kirsten Nelson said.
Virginia higher education institutions are struggling under budget pressures, a trend mirrored across the country. Out-of-state students -- and their higher tuition prices -- help ease the financial burden.
An analysis of a proposed bill last year showed that implementing a 25 percent out-of-state enrollment cap would add almost 7,000 spots for in-state students at public universities. However, it would cost state universities tuition revenue and the state itself $51 million in revenue from the general fund.
The General Assembly convened last week, and no similar bill has been introduced so far. Hugo said he may still put forward a bill in this year’s session but had not yet decided.
Still, he said he recognizes that the issue continues to hit close to home in Fairfax County.
“For Northern Virginia in particular, access has been a big issue,” Hugo said. “We’ve had outstanding students getting waitlisted.”
In recent years, Virginia, William and Mary, Virginia Tech and James Madison have all increased spots for both in-state and out-of-state students, Nelson said. So while the proportion of in-state students might not get larger, there are more spaces available, as out-of-state students help subsidize in-state seats.
At the same time, though, more and more high-achieving students from Fairfax County continue to apply to more and more schools.
Virginia Tech director of undergraduate admissions Mildred Johnson said she understands students’ anxiety during the admissions process. But she wanted to dispel fears that the university maintains a strict quota for specific high schools.
“We read every application that we get,” Johnson said. “There aren’t any automatic cutoffs. We’re just trying to find the best fit.”
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