These universities’ tuition programs aim to boost enrollment—at the expense of others

North Dakota State University is calling the effects of Minnesota's program on its student population "catastrophic" after the university presented data at a State Board of Higher Education showing that 45% of its undergraduate student body consists of students from Minnesota.

With their backs against the wall, colleges and universities leading up to this fall semester have begun leveraging competitive tuition programs to win over more students. And some institutions are doing so in not-so-subtle ways.

Among higher education’s greatest challenges, no other may seem more daunting than reversing its trend of declining enrollment, particularly among Northeast and Midwestern schools. While fall enrollment nationwide has decreased by 9% since 2017, the Midwest has seen a 13.1% decline, while the Northeast has endured an 11.3% drop off, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

Student populations are largely thinning due to regional demographic declines. Finlandia University in Michigan and Iowa Wesleyan University both closed in March after citing a dwindling pool of high school students.

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New York

Across the State University of New York’s (SUNY) 22 campuses, the university system is offering to match the in-state tuition of flagship universities in eight states, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Illinois and California.

Six of these states neighbor New York in the Northeast, and they, too, have their own issues with enrollment. For example, declining enrollment at Pennsylvania’s four-year institutions outpaces the region and is in the midst of some potentially major reconfigurations by the governor. With in-state students in Pennsylvania already overburdened by college costs, the potential for their departure is high.


Minesotta’s North Star Promise program enters a bold new direction of free tuition programs in U.S. higher education. With its potential to bolster enrollment among its qualifying in-state students, one out-of-state university is anxious about the dent it can cause to its own enrollment.

North Dakota State University is calling the effects of Minnesota’s program on its student population “catastrophic” after the university presented data at a State Board of Higher Education showing that 45% of its undergraduate student body consists of students from Minnesota, according to CBS News. The university is looking at losing $12 million per year in lost tuition and state funds if Minnesotans decide to stay within their borders.

“Probably half our football team comes from Minnesota, so that’s kind of a big deal to us,” Rod Flanigan, president of the North Dakota State College of Science, said.

South Dakota

At the start of the fall semester, the South Dakota Advantage plan will extend its in-state tuition to students in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. With the move, South Dakota Mines is in the process of expanding its breadth of recruiters to different areas of the Midwest to get the word out, according to KOTA.

Wisconsin and Illinois are the two most recent states to be included in this plan. Scott Pohlson, vice president for enrollment, marketing and university relations at the University of South Dakota, found that Illinois had the second-largest population of high school graduates to pursue post-secondary education opportunities elsewhere, according to the Argus Leader.


The University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) may be trying to reverse the wave of student departures. UIS’ Board of Regents approved on July 20 a three-year pilot tuition-matching program for students located in two counties in Missouri and Scott County in Iowa.

“Currently, UIS is recognized as a regionally affordable option for in-state students. However, it is challenged to be competitive with other regional universities in the state that offer discounted rates to nonresident students,” read an archived Board meeting letter.

The Board stated four incentives for this pilot program, believing tuition matching will increase enrollment, revenue diversity and reputation.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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