A program that offers out-of-state students a break on college tuition brings myriad benefits to Nevada’s higher education system, officials say.
The Western Undergraduate Exchange this year attracted thousands of students to the state’s colleges — many at the University of Nevada, Reno — a program that helps diversify and improve schools throughout the Silver State.
“A lot of those students wouldn’t come here if it wasn’t for the exchange program,” said Chet Burton, chief financial officer for the Nevada System of Higher Education. “It’s very much a net positive.”
The program allows non-Nevada residents to attend classes at UNLV, UNR, Nevada State College and the state’s community colleges by paying no more than 150 percent of resident tuition. Nonresident students at UNLV and UNR save an average of nearly $11,000 per semester.
UNLV, however, accepts significantly fewer WUE Scholarship students than its counterpart in the north. This year, 1,082 students attended UNLV at the discounted rate, compared with 2,562 at UNR, the most recent data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education show.
Jeremy Simon, spokesman for WICHE, called Nevada a “net importer” of WUE students. The 4,117 out-of-state residents in the program is more than double the 1,771 Nevadans who got similar tuition discounts to attend out-of-state institutions.
“It really helps all of the parties who are involved in the equation — the state, the institutions, students and families,” Simon said. “It helps them all solve problems that wouldn’t be able to be solved normally.”
California is the program’s biggest importer of students to Nevada this year — 457 students at UNLV and 2,456 at UNR.
And until this week, the requirements to enroll at UNLV differed for California students.
“We attempt to achieve a balance from a financial perspective on how many WUE students we accept,” said Michael Sauer, Associate Vice President for enrollment management at UNLV. “Because California is such a large state, we accept a 3.5 (grade-point average) in order to maintain that balance.”
WICHE’s expectation, however, is that all schools apply the same admissions criteria to candidates from all states in the program. Although it’s not a contractual stipulation, Simon said the commission would like university to align with the state-neutrality standard.
UNR tightened admissions criteria two years ago to stem the influx of students using the tuition break.
A WUE student must achieve a minimum ACT score of 26 — up from 22 — and at least a 3.25 GPA to be admitted to the Reno campus. UNR requires at least a 3.0 GPA without an ACT score for other students.
“Our growth has slowed over the last couple years,” said Steve Maples, UNR admissions director. “It’s much more controlled growth.”
The change came after the state Board of Regents raised concerns that WUE students comprised too great a proportion of the freshman class. There are 250 WUE students in the current freshman class, down from 280 in 2016, and about 700 the year before that.
“We have to keep mindful that the opportunities for the state of Nevada are first,” Maples said.
Raising the profile
Maples said the program’s benefits outweigh any potential pitfalls because WUE students bring a greater diversity to the Nevada campuses and have high retention and graduation rates.
“Overall, when you look at institutional excellence and trying to raise the profile of an institution, the more qualified students you can get, the better it is for the whole student body,” he said.
They might also decide to stay in Nevada after graduation and add to the labor pool, Maples said.
Although Nevada schools don’t receive any additional state money to support WUE students, Burton said they boost a school’s bottom line. This year, UNLV will receive $10.5 million in tuition through the program. UNR will generate more than $25 million.
“It’s revenue that I don’t believe the university would have otherwise,” Burton said.