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SALT LAKE CITY -- A recent survey found that colleges and universities are increasingly looking at students' financial means in making admissions decisions.
The survey, sponsored by Inside Higher Ed, was completed by more than 460 senior admissions officials nationwide. It found that more than one-third of 4-year public and private universities have increased efforts to recruit applicants who can pay for their education without financial assistance.
Many survey respondents stated the pressure to make decisions based on economic as well as academic factors as a reason for the change.
Local universities say financial concerns have never been a consideration in admissions decisions. Instead of placing the burden of financial responsibility on the student, many Utah schools are working to keep tuition costs low and expanding financial aid programs to give students of diverse backgrounds equal access to education.
We're fortunate, in Utah, that education is affordable, especially compared to national levels.
Utah's average public and private college tuition rates are among the lowest in the nation. As of 2004, the average yearly tuition rate at public 4-year colleges and universities in Utah was less than $3,000. Students at Utah's private institutions paid less than $4,500 per year, the lowest in the nation.
Some universities emphasized that students can earn a quality education at a variety of institutions, regardless of the cost.
"We're fortunate, in Utah, that education is affordable, especially compared to national levels," said Jenn Twiss, executive director of enrollment at Utah State University. "Students may have their hearts set on a more expensive university, but there are a lot of good schools out there."
The survey also found that a recent trend has been to recruit out-of-state or international students. Private institutions in particular are focusing on recruiting students whose tuition can differ by thousands of dollars from their in-state peers.
Brigham Young University does not base tuition differences on residency; rather, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pay tuition at a subsidized rate. Still, the university has not increased efforts to attract students of other faiths, who would pay higher tuition rates.
The percentage of BYU students who are members of LDS church has remained consistent over the past five to ten years, according to BYU spokesperson Todd Hollingshead.
"BYU seeks to admit as many qualified students as possible, based on their academic merit and service record." said Hollingshead. "We know what students we want to be a part of the university, regardless of financial need."
Having an educated population benefits our entire society.
Local open-admissions universities see the growing focus on funding as a challenge to the purpose of state institutions. Such institutions exist to provide access to education to all qualified students, regardless of background. Some fear that economic concerns will lead more selective universities to withhold opportunities from deserving students, to the detriment of academia and the state in general.
"It is incredibly important to provide access to education," said Scott Teichert, director of admission at Weber State University. "It falls under the stewardship of state institutions to provide opportunities to students of all backgrounds."
Despite the attention paid to students with less financial need, institutions nationwide remain united in their concern about the affordability of higher education. 75% of 4-year institutions surveyed reported that the most important challenge they face is rising concern from families about tuition and affordability.
Some universities have expanded financial-aid programs due to the economic concerns of students and their families.
"We have students with parents who have lost a job, or a family in danger of losing their home," said Twiss. "We have increased the funding for financial aid because we've seen more cases where students are in need of financial aid to make academic pursuits possible."
Utah schools are working hard to keep education affordable and admissions practices fair, because, according to Teichert, "having an educated population benefits our entire society."