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As a parent with two kids doing college searches, it’s good to be able to see the makeup of the student body of various colleges. I also found it interesting to view the changes at two of the fastest-growing flagships in the country, Ole Miss and Alabama.
Both Ole Miss and Alabama have exploded in size over the past 20 years, fueled in large part by out-of-state enrollment. These out-of-state students pay a large supplement, almost paying private-school rates to attend a public college. In other words, these students are a real profit center for the schools and subsidize the in-state students
In 1998 Ole Miss was already attracting a fair number of out-of-state students, with 985 in-state and 824 non-resident freshmen, for an out-of-state percentage of 46 percent of a freshman class of 1,809. Almost a third of these were from Tennessee, and from my experience most were from Memphis or the Southwest part of the state; in some ways these Tennessee students weren't really from out of state, since Ole Miss was their closest flagship.
By 2014 the freshman class size had more than doubled, to 3,809, with 1,688 in-state and 2,121 non-residents, or 56 percent out-of-state.
One of the biggest changes in the composition of the Ole Miss freshman class is the increase in the number of students from Texas and Georgia. In Texas, the 10-Percent Rule (or Seven-Percent Rule, depending on the mood of the moment) has made admission to that state’s top schools almost impossible for good students from top school districts. In Georgia, the Hope Scholarship has encouraged the state’s best students to attend the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech, and made admission highly competitive (the average freshman ACT at Georgia is 29).
The Texas and Georgia numbers are plain to see. In 1998, Texas sent 84 and Georgia 78 freshmen to Ole Miss. In 2014 those numbers were 353 and 295. In 1998 California sent four students; in 2014, 84. Connecticut went from three to 19. Massachusetts, one to 15. New Jersey, zero to 21. Pennsylvania, 3 to 23. Florida 23 to 99. And so on.
Over at Alabama, the growth has been even more explosive and transformative. In 1998 Alabama had 2,616 freshmen with only 26 percent coming from out of state. So in 1998 Ole Miss was much more of a regional school than Alabama. By 2014 Alabama had 6,824 freshmen, 2,462 in-state and 4,362, or 64 percent, out of state. The growth in the number of Northeastern and far West students attending Alabama far exceeds the growth at Ole Miss. Connecticut went from five to 67 from 1998 to 2014. Massachusetts, two to 85. New Jersey, nine to 142. Pennsylvania, five to 123. Florida 71 to 386.
Both Ole Miss and Alabama are using generous merit scholarships to attract top students from around the country. Students with a 32 on the ACT can attend tuition-free; at Alabama, if a student finishes in fewer than eight semesters he can use the scholarship towards graduate school.
Alabama gets a lot more buzz over its Presidential Scholarship than Ole Miss does for its Academic Excellence Award, and the graduate school rollover certainly makes it a better deal. On the other hand, top students have a far greater chance of being able to stack scholarships and perhaps even get a full ride at Ole Miss.
Of course, most out-of-state students don’t get scholarships; they pay their own way. Part of what attracts them to Ole Miss or Alabama is the desire to attend a relatively small, traditional Southern school.
There can be too much of a good thing, though. If these schools keep going on their current trajectory, neither will be small nor Southern 20 years from now. And that’s not a good thing, in my view.