48 Investigates: Are out-of-state students pushing in-state stud - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

48 Investigates: Are out-of-state students pushing in-state students out of U of A?

University of Alabama (Source: WAFF file) University of Alabama (Source: WAFF file)
(Source: WAFF file) (Source: WAFF file)
(Source: WAFF) (Source: WAFF)

Here in the Tennessee Valley, many high school students want to continue their education at a school where they can show their pride by yelling, "Roll Tide!"

Yet, they're finding out it's not a given they'll be admitted into the University of Alabama. Not only that, their biggest competition isn't from Birmingham or Montgomery, it's from Oregon or New Jersey.

Some sounds like the bells from the Denny Chimes are still a fixture on the Quad in Tuscaloosa. Yet, after 183 years of tradition, change seems to be the constant at the University of Alabama.

The state's largest school is now a magnet to students from all corners of this country.

Kailee Brashears traded in the sun and surf of San Diego for the excitement of national championships and highly ranked academic programs at the Capstone.

Brashears said, "The PR program is nationally ranked which is what I want to get into. So, that was the Aha moment!"

Kailee isn't the only one who doesn't have an Alabama address. Right now, 51 percent of the students are from out-of-state. This is a sharp contrast to what you would've seen on campus in 2002.  During that year, three-quarters of the students were from Sweet Home Alabama. 

The school's vision started to change when Dr. Robert Witt arrived on campus in 2003.  As president, he wanted Alabama to transition from a state school to a university that commands national respect.

Terrell Grant heard that message loud and clear in Prince George, Virginia. 

"It's a great place!" Grant said. "Out of all the colleges I visited it jumped out at me. It has everything I could ever want."

When Grant arrives in the fall, it's likely the person sitting next to him won't be from Alabama. Sixty-four percent of the 2014 freshmen class are from a different state or country. Just eight years ago, the opposite was true.

Why the big switch?  Some say, it makes perfect sense when you look at the dollars and cents differences in tuition.

Dr. Witt doesn't hide the fact that Alabama aggressively recruits out-of-state students who pay nearly $16,000 more per year. Witt says tough decisions had to be made when state funding was cut substantially starting in 2008. 

"If it wasn't for our non-resident enrollment the financial impact of losing 60 million dollars would be felt in scholarship support, we'd have fewer faculty members which means larger classes.  We wouldn't have the dollars to invest in facilities ensuring
our students have state of the art laboratories and other educational opportunities."

Since Witt arrived in 2003, Alabama's enrollment has ballooned from 20,000 students to more than 36,000 in 2014.  Enrollment isn't the only number that's rising.  High school students need an above average ACT score if they want a ticket to T-Town.

"Our state has averaged a 21," said Witt. "The average ACT score this fall for an Alabama student, a freshman, is a 26."

The university's average GPA has risen as well. It increased from 3.3 in 2003 to 3.65 in 2014.  However, as Alabama continues to attract and admit a more diverse student body, some are wondering if this trend is taking away spots from hopeful in-state students.

Sheila O'Connor, a junior from Hoover, said, "I like meeting people from out-of-state, but when you bring in so many out-of-state students, it's kind of pushing in-state students away because they're thinking that competition is going up. It's like I have to step up my game."

Yet, Witt claims, the same student who was accepted into Alabama when he arrived on campus in 2003, is still getting a thumbs up in 2015..

"We're committed to ensuring every qualified Alabama resident who applies to this university is accepted," he said.

While the university says Alabama students are still a top priority, a subtle change in the school's mission statement speaks loudly.

In 2003, its official mission was to quote "advance the intellectual and social condition of the people of the state." However, the most recent mission is to "advance the intellectual and social condition of the people of the state, the nation, and the world."

While 64 percent of Alabama's 2014 freshman class is from another state or country, the disparity isn't as large at other state schools. Auburn is the closest with 40 percent of its freshmen students coming from out-of-state. The number drops substantially at UAH and UAB where 20 and 16 percent of the freshman class is not from Alabama.

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