Earlier this year in a post about the divergence of college into winners and losers, commenter rcookjr mentioned the aggressive recruiting efforts of the University of Alabama in Chicagoland. When I lived there, you’d typically see Big Ten university flags flying off the fronts of various bars. Today there’s a wider range of schools and a few years ago I remember being seeing an Alabama flag and being puzzled by it.
Urbanophile readers had the story first, but the Chicago Tribune recently took a dive into the recruiting efforts of Alabama in the Chicago area:
Sydney Whalen’s first dorm meeting last fall at the University of Alabama started with a typical icebreaker: Where is everyone from? Several hands went up when her residential adviser asked who was from Alabama and Georgia. It is the South, after all. And what about the Chicago area? “I’m not even kidding — we were the majority in that group,” said Whalen, a freshman from Mokena.
For Whalen, a top student at Lincoln-Way West High School in New Lenox, the choice was easy. Alabama offered her a full-tuition scholarship covering four years of undergraduate work. The University of Illinois, which she also considered, did not offer anything. A decade ago, 147 Illinoisans were enrolled in Tuscaloosa. That number hit 1,623 last fall, encompassing hometowns across the state from Fox Lake to Creal Springs and from Quincy to Shawneetown. And Alabama isn’t taking just any student; many are among Illinois’ brightest.
Alabama’s not the only one. Lots of out of state schools are recruiting in Illinois. It’s all part of the scramble for dollars in an increasingly competitive college funding environment:
Enter the University of Alabama. It awarded 203 full-tuition scholarships, out of 305 total, to freshman Illinoisans in 2017, defraying more than $100,000 in costs per student. The university has nearly quintupled over the past decade the amount of institutional, non-need-based aid it awards.
Alabama’s recruitment strategy grew out of dynamics familiar to Illinois schools: a drop in state funding for public universities. More than one-third of university income came from state funding as recently as 2007 — easily the highest chunk of its overall revenue. That proportion dropped to 12.1 percent by 2016 while the share of tuition revenue inched upward, university figures show.
Even with tuition covered, Alabama still wins, collecting around $18,000 a year from out-of-state students for room and board and other expenses, more than the sticker price for in-state students. The result has been surging enrollment, from around the country. In 2008, nearly 70 percent of students in Tuscaloosa were from the state of Alabama. By 2017, 41 percent were local students.
This sounds like a variation of the incentive structures Southern states have used to lure industrial business as well.
This probably makes sense for them at a number of levels. For one thing, it is putting Alabama on the mental map of families in Illinois, establishing a pipeline into their school that probably has some self-sustaining character to it.
This may not benefit Alabama from a talent perspective. The students may leave immediately, and in the short run a highly subsidized student boomeranging back to Chicago can be a great win; somebody else helped pay to educate your kids.
On the other hand, this undermines the finances of Illinois’ own schools. To the extent that they are important for the economic future of the state, that may be a long term negative.
This is an example of the growing competition for students and dollars ongoing around the countries. As demographics shift into smaller college age cohorts in the future, I’d expect this to get even more intense.
Read more about Alabama recruiting from the NYT in 2016.