Students from other states bring diversity and economic benefits to TuscaloosaBy Hunter Richey | 06/22/2016 10:22am
On any given day at the Capstone, one will encounter friends, classmates and new faces, each with his or her own story and path. While these students share much in common, one thing that may set them apart is which state they call home. Fifty-four percent of UA students are now from outside of the state of Alabama, according to the University’s website, and the number has trended upward for several years. Such an increase in out-of-state enrollment has not come free to the University, as a large number of scholarship dollars have gone to students residing outside of the state, and a large scale recruitment effort has been steadily underway. These costs, however, pale in comparison to the academic, economic, and cultural benefits that are associated with the current influx of out-of-state students to the University.
Such an increase has done more than simply raise the number of students enrolled at The University of Alabama; it has improved the quality of education that all students receive at the Capstone. While every student brings his or her own benefit to the campus, out-of-state students bring a special dose of geographic diversity and thought to the state of Alabama’s flagship public university.
Large state schools are often portrayed locally as a second round of high school, as they are generally the most attended universities for local graduates. While UA certainly has a sizable number of those students (myself included), the ever-increasing percentage of students from places other than Alabama creates a student population more similar to that of an out-of-state school while being located in the heart of Alabama.
While a geographically diverse student population brings great benefit to the school, many Alabama residents may worry that such a distinction goes against the idea of a state-funded school. Aside from the simple response that out-of-state students pay higher tuition rates, thereby allowing the University to become less dependent on the ever-threatened state funding many peer schools are tied to, the recent student population growth has ignited an economic boom for Tuscaloosa, spanning beyond the massive growth on campus. As thousands of additional students enroll at The University of Alabama, they bring with them significant commercial demands and tax dollars. The recent business development on 15th Street and downtown owes itself in large part to the growing student population. Along with such commercial growth, local infrastructure improvements have been implemented, and even made possible, because of the economic benefits of a growing UA campus.
The benefits of the University's recent out-of-state focused expansion are not limited to financial aspects. As recruitment efforts have increased, the best and brightest are now enrolling from around the country. Such efforts have increased the academic standards of an institution that students from both near and far can attend and learn in ever improving ways. According to the university’s website, more than one-third of last year’s freshman class scored 30 or higher on the ACT, placing them in the top five percent of students nationwide. With such high-caliber talent attending The University of Alabama, the value of a UA education has increased for all students enrolled. Also important to note is that with students now attending the University from across the country, the networks developed by students are now able to reach places like Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta like never before.
Tuscaloosa is not the only beneficiary to the University's out-of-state growth, as the impact runs statewide. While some students will inevitably leave Alabama after graduation, many will stay, keeping their high-quality education and varying perspectives in state, where they will benefit the political and cultural discourse statewide. Major state industries like Mercedes and its suppliers heavily recruit UA students, and that partnership is likely to grow deeper as the student population continues to grow in number and quality.
The University of Alabama has changed in recent years, and the influx of out-of-state students has been a major catalyst for this change. Class time is valuable, but a large aspect of education comes from experience outside of the classroom. While the same is true for any university, interactions with peers from across the country add fuel to the fire and allow students to grow in ways they never could have imagined before attending Bama Bound. The cost of attracting students from across the country is more than surpassed by the benefit such enrollment achieves, and the University, Tuscaloosa and the State of Alabama are made better as a result.
Hunter Richey is a rising senior majoring in Economics and Political Science.