Friday, March 23, 2012

State of the Students

Many students at big universities such as USC can recall their first ever day arriving on their college campus and the excitement that surrounds that day. Whether you follow your high school friends to college, or decide to go somewhere different than everyone else, students are introduced to an entirely new student population when they first arrive on campus. As students begin to mingle with their new roommates, suite mates, or floor mates, they encounter people from a variety of backgrounds, often befriending those who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Because of this, a large portion of discussion early on between new friends in college involves where each other are from and their reasons for picking the school they now attend. This topic is continuously brought up throughout the college tenure as students are introduced to new people. To dig deeper into this topic, I decided to investigate the backgrounds of some of the student population at the University of South Carolina, including two of my friends who were floor mates of mine during our freshman year.
            The decision to attend college close to home versus choosing to go out of state has been something of an interest to me ever since being here at USC, especially the factors involved for deciding either option. To better understand why people stay or leave home, I interviewed two friends: one from Cincinnati, Ohio and another from Lexington, South Carolina. It was important to get the perspective from both out-of-state and in-state students in order to try and get an idea of what makes these two groups different from one another. For Emily, my friend from Cincinnati, her biggest reason for leaving home was the “opportunity to experience a new city.” This statement reflects the feelings of many out of state students I have had conversations with regarding the matter. The excitement of being somewhere new, and not confined to the same environment that one grows up in, seems to be a big attraction for out of state students.
USC has enjoyed a nationally recognized and highly regarded International Business program in its College of Business from well-respected college ranking publications such as US World News. This recognition was a big selling point as well for Emily, saying that she “wanted to attend a college with a good business school.” The idea of being in one of the better Business schools in the nation, therefore, becomes a very large pull factor for USC to those out-of-state students looking at enrolling in the College of Business. Emily also expressed her desire to attend a “good sized school with Division 1 athletics”, and this point is one that can be echoed by a large majority of students who attend D-1 schools across the nation. With the opportunity to play on nation-wide platforms like ESPN, D-1 colleges are able to reach across states to potential students. Success of college sports teams offers students a separate access of entertainment, and a feeling of community among other students and fans in the wake of big sporting events. For out-of-state students like Emily, the opportunity to watch USC on TV increased the interest in the university, and getting to attend big SEC games in a variety of sports at USC became another significant pull factor.
I followed this interview up by talking to my old floor mate and now roommate, Jon, from nearby Lexington, South Carolina. For Jon, money was the biggest reason for staying close. “It’s so much cheaper to stay in-state and to stay close, since I don’t have to travel far to get here”, he replied. For Jon, it was less about staying close due to home sickness as it was about cost of being close to home and receiving in-state tuition. The disparity between in-state and out-of-state tuition is certainly a tremendous factor in many college students’ decisions as to where to go. At USC, for instance, there is a $19,000 difference between the tuition for in-state and out-of-state students. Being a public, as well as the flagship, university in South Carolina, it is the mission of USC to educate as many residents of the state as possible, which requires making the price of this education affordable for the majority of residents in South Carolina. The USC mission statement, updated in June of 2010, specifically identifies the citizens of South Carolina as being the ultimate responsibility of USC. The mission, found on USC’s main website, states that “the primary mission of the University of South Carolina is the education of the state’s diverse citizens through teaching, research, creative activity, and service.” This responsibility USC undertakes to teach its residents is what keeps tuition prices for the residents considerably lower than for out-of-state students. It is this feeling of responsibility for the residents of South Carolina that keeps many students in the state and allows for students like Jon the opportunity to attend college a receive education on the highest levels.
Although there is only mention of in-state students in USC’s original mission, there is a small statement dealing with the issue of out-of-state students under a separate section on USC’s website labeled “SC Difference”. The University declares that “years ago, USC recognized the value that out-of-state students bring in terms of diversity, backgrounds, opinions, and talents. At that time, our enrollment began to grow as students from other states entered our system.” From this, it appears that it has been a fairly recent goal for USC to increase its out-of-state student population. As of now, the University claims that “USC students who hail from outside the state represent about 33 percent of our total student population.” From these figures, we can see that about 67 percent of the current population comes from in-state, and with USC’s stance on its responsibility to provide residents with an affordable education, it comes as no surprise. However, the statement goes on to say that “now nationally recognized- for athletics, the arts, business, and science- USC brings distinction to our state and is a driver in economic development. It can be seen that USC has begun to realize that attracting out-of-state students through things such as athletics and business (as Emily touched upon during our interview), USC is able to further diversify the state and to put the state in more of a national spotlight, and helps to drive economic growth.
From these interviews and statements from the University, the question of in-state versus out-of-state, at least at USC, becomes a bit clearer. Opportunities to explore a new city and be introduced to a new environment, along with success in programs like athletics and business, generate interest in USC from students out of state. At the same time, USC’s original mission to provide the citizens of South Carolina with an affordable education helps keep many students, like Jon, close to home. Although the numbers are skewed towards an in-state majority at USC, there is a good chance that each student that you meet will have a very different background from your own. It is important that students not simply restrict their learning for inside the classroom walls, but to continue the learning process as they encounter and befriend other students from backgrounds so that they may continue to better understand the nation and world around them.

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