Gaining admission to the University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus in Amherst is, on average, more difficult for Massachusetts residents than for those who live outside the state, a new report suggests.
The Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank which released the study on Tuesday, said it challenges the widely-accepted belief that nonresident applicants are held to more rigorous academic standards than their Massachusetts counterparts.
Researchers who examined university records from 2010 to 2016 found that, on average, out-of-state undergraduates admitted to UMass-Amherst had lower high school GPAs and lower SAT scores than in-state students during that period.
For nonresidents accepted to the university in 2016, the average GPA was 3.
78 and average composite SAT score was 1242, compared to an average GPA of 3.97 and composite SAT of 1265 for accepted in-state students.
“The numbers imply that Massachusetts residents are held to a higher standard for admission,” the report stated.
But such a practice has potential for controversy, the authors concluded, because the university’s central mission is to serve the citizens of Massachusetts – who contribute tax dollars to the school – and provide an affordable higher education option for qualified residents unable to meet the costs of private colleges and universities.
Nonresident students who attend UMass pay significantly higher tuition than in-state students.
Ed Blaguszewski, a spokesman for UMass-Amherst, said increasing the percentage of nonresident students has helped offset cuts in state funding, which now accounts for only 21 percent of the school’s operating budget.
UMass has become a popular destination for students worldwide, he added.
“Creating a diverse educational environment that includes students from across the country and the world is invaluable in preparing our young people to succeed in a highly competitive global economy and to nurture a civil society,” Blaguszewski said in a statement.
The report recommends that state officials consider placing caps on out-of-state enrollment and that the university conduct an analysis to determine how many of the nonresidents it educates remain in Massachusetts after graduating. “If out-of-state graduates stay here in large numbers to expand the economy and fill jobs in areas where labor shortages exist, the university’s current policy may yield benefits,” said Mary Connaughton, Pioneer’s director of government transparency.
The study makes clear that academic standards for admission to UMass have been on the rise for all students for more than decade, with a corresponding drop in overall acceptance rates. But the proportion of nonresident students at Amherst has climbed 63 percent since 2004, a higher percentage increase than at the university’s three other undergraduate campuses in Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell.
State Sen. Michael Moore, co-chair of the Legislature’s higher education committee, said the trends noted in the report were “concerning” and merited further study.
“Providing out-of-state students with a leg-up during the admissions process sends the wrong message to high school students from our Commonwealth who have worked hard to gain admission at the leading public university in their home state,” said Moore, a Millbury Democrat.
While many public university systems have made conscious efforts to bolster out-of-state enrollment, there has been backlash over the policies in other states.
In 2017, the Board of Regents of the University of California approved its first-ever enrollment cap, of 18 percent, on nonresident undergraduates at most campuses, heeding calls from the public to reserve more spots at its campuses for California residents.
The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was penalized $1 million in state funds in 2016 for exceeding an 18 percent cap on nonresident freshmen in two successive years.