By Daniel Bendtsen
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — University of Wyoming administrators are working on a plan to, beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year, increase need-based aid for Wyoming students while reducing discounts provided to out-of-state students.
A preliminary recommendation administrators gave the board of trustees this month calls for $1 million in new need-based aid in addition to more scholarships for transfer students.
The new strategy arose out of a realization that, despite a record freshman class of 1,859 coming to campus this past fall, tuition revenue has been less than expected.
By the end of February, UW had brought in $58 million worth of tuition revenue for the school year. Administrators had budgeted for $2.6 million more than that.
Administrators largely blame the disappointing tuition revenue on the amount of tuition waivers given to out-of-state students, including the Western Undergraduate Exchange and Rocky Mountain Scholars programs, which provide tuition waivers of 150 percent of the in-state sticker price to out-of-staters. Through February, UW provided $2.3 million more in tuition waivers than it had budgeted for.
In the 2018 fiscal year, UW handed out $6.2 million in tuition waivers, with the Western Undergraduate Exchange accounting for $3.6 million and the Rocky Mountain Scholars accounting for $1.4 million of that.
David Jewell, associate vice president for budgeting and fiscal planning, told UW’s board of trustees during a special meeting on Wednesday that UW has asked consulting firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz, which UW hired to work on enrollment strategies, to create a tuition model to fully realize their goals.
Jewell said the consulting firm has already produced an initial report that “is showing so far that, yes, it is a real possibility” for UW to increase tuition revenue while both keeping enrollment steady at current levels and increasing merit-based aid.
UW President Laurie Nichols told the trustees that administrators will bring forth concrete recommendations at the board’s May meeting. At that same meeting, the trustees will also weigh whether to increase tuition 4 percent for 2020-2021. Trustees passed a policy in 2014 making 4 percent the standard annual tuition increase.
Jewell said Kyle Moore, associate vice provost for enrollment management, is already studying how to “pivot” UW’s marketing and recruiting in case UW does move forward on a new enrollment strategy.
Trustee Dick Scarlett said UW also needs to “do a much better job” of getting high school guidance counselors to encourage their students to attend UW.
The counselors “have no allegiance to the university,” Scarlett said. “We need to do a better job of selling them on selling our kids to come to the University of Wyoming.”
Trustee Kermit Brown said the change in recruiting strategy should also come with a plan to get more Wyoming high-schoolers to attend the university instead “settling” for a community college after graduation.
Wyoming is unusual in its high percentage of students who attend community colleges after high school. In the fall, Wyoming’s community colleges had a full-time enrollment of 7,616, with 12,789 other students attending community colleges part-time.
Six hundred ninety-nine students transferred to UW from a Wyoming community college in the fall.
Moore said he’s hopeful that, even with a cut in out-of-state tuition waivers, UW won’t see a drop-off in the number of high-performing students from outside the state.
“One of the things this study has revealed to us is that there is enough elasticity and tolerance within the out-of state student paying market,” Moore said.
In 2017-2018, students coming from outside Wyoming constituted 46 percent of the freshman class student body. That increased to 51 percent in 2018-2019.
If administrators don’t also suggest a big cut in the out-of-state sticker price next month, it would be a major change from the strategy they told trustees in 2018 they were pursuing. At the time, they said they’d bring a plan in 2019 to increase the number of out-of-state students on campus by cutting their tuition rate.
Huron Consulting Group had recommended UW reduce its annual undergraduate out-of-state tuition from $15,480 to $9,500.