AKRON, Ohio - Attending the University of Akron next fall could cost the same for someone living in Alabama or Alaska as it does for an Ohio resident.
The university is among several northeast Ohio colleges cutting surcharges for out-of-state students.
Kent State, Cleveland State and Youngstown State universities also are going head-to-head in recruiting as they lower the premium they charge nonresidents.
"Quite frankly, it was a defensive as much as an offensive position," said Jack Boyle III, vice president for business affairs and finance at Cleveland State. "We needed to be where other area universities are."
About 18 months ago, Cleveland State cut its nonresident surcharge by half, or about $5,000, to all students nationwide, regardless of academic accomplishments.
This fall, Akron will debut what may be the most aggressive reduced-rate program in the state, available to students nationwide plus U.S. protectorates.
Nonresidents with lackluster grades still will pay the full cost. But the university will cut the out-of-state surcharge by 60 percent for good students. It will eliminate the surcharge entirely for the best students who meet stringent qualifying criteria, like being in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
Last fall, Akron started a smaller version of the program for students from 11 states with GPAs of 3.0 or better.
Enrollment from those states grew to 82 in fall 2005 from 43 in fall 2004.
"I would love to see us double that again," said Sharon Johnson, vice president for student affairs.
The move to equalize in-state and out-of-state rates can be a costly one for universities.
While they get subsidies from the state to help cover the cost of residents' education, they don't get anything for out-of-state students.
But some students who pay something are better than no students who pay nothing, suggested Rich Petrick, vice chancellor of finance for the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees higher education in Ohio.
"If they've got excess capacity in programs or courses, the marginal cost (for adding out-of-state students) is almost zero," he said. "In exchange for new students, they're forgoing a very small amount of money."
Ohio has given deals to some out-of-staters for years. Reciprocity agreements allow students in some counties in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky to pay the resident rate of the host state.
For instance, Wright State in Dayton charges in-state rates to students from select Indiana counties.
Youngstown State increased its out-of-state enrollment more than 10 years ago by cutting half of the extra cost for students from 23 nearby counties in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York. Today, about 11 percent of YSU's 11,000 undergraduates are from out of state.
But Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said the cuts may not be the best emphasis for Ohio's colleges.
She noted that Ohio has a poor record of getting its own residents into college. Only 23 percent of Ohioans have a four-year degree, compared to 27 percent nationwide, according to the U.S. Census.
She suggested that Ohio universities might do better to concentrate on their own base.
"I've never heard of state colleges doing this to fill seats, especially when the participation of their own population isn't very good," Finney said.