In one of those unintuitive stories that come out of the recession, NPR points out that cheaper tuition at state universities may actually be detrimental to in-state students. This comes about because the universities can get a lot more money from out-of-state students. According to the story, Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers explains:

I think it’s fair to describe it as a national trend. Most public institutions have experienced better than two years of budget cuts by now. They are often very restricted in terms of how much they can increase tuition for their in-state students. So out-of-state applicants have become particularly appealing to them just as a matter of balancing their budgets.

Public universities, particularly those so prominent that they’re nationally known, are still a very good deal for students coming from outside the state. But at least historically these schools existed primarily to educate a state’s young people at low cost, the fact that they’re now seeking wealthier, out-of-state students to pay their bills brings up questions of justice. In addition, as NPR piece explains:

The public universities are funded by their respective states, because of course precisely at the point where families who have arguably paid into the system with state taxes for years, sometimes decades, it’s at the point that they need these institutions the most that the institutions are least able to meet the demand. Why? Because the states tend to fund these institutions on an annual basis.

This means that America’s public universities have these discussions every single year, coming to different conclusions based on the financial resources available that year.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer