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Facing lower enrollment numbers, Wayne State expands in-state tuition to Ontario and nearby states

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Wayne State University's campus

This week, Wayne State University announced plans that change what it means to be an "in-state" student at WSU.

Beginning in January, residents from Ontario or any of the other Great Lake states — Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — will now be eligible for in-state tuition prices at the Detroit-based university.

Or, at least, close to in-state tuition prices.

Under the new scheme, accepted undergraduate students from either the Canadian province or the neighboring states will now be offered the same lower tuition rate offered to Michigan residents — with an additional 10% tax added onto the reduced sticker price.

In short, these students may now save more than $11,000 a semester.

Public universities are seeing state appropriations drop off, and increasingly rely out-of-state students to increase tuition revenue.

So how can Wayne State decrease its pool of those eligible for the more expensive, non-resident tuition?

“We’ve never really been part of the trend toward more out-of-state students,” said Wayne State University Provost Margaret Winters.

Compared to nearby University of Michigan, which enrolled close to 50% in-state students in 2013, 90% of Wayne State’s  undergraduate body is from Michigan.

Add to that generally dropping enrollment numbers — Wayne State’s enrollment numbers have fallen by 9% since 2009 — and you’ve got a university that’s looking to attract students who might otherwise never consider enrolling there.

Cue the new tuition prices for undergrads who are traditionally understood as out-of-state or international students.

“We’re going to have a whole bunch of people who’ve probably never thought about Wayne State before who will now be attracted to Wayne State,” said Winters.

So while the number of spots available for applicants won’t be changing, the hope is the number of interested students will change — for the better.

The new policy comes at a time when the definition of an in-state student is growing.

Earlier in September, Wayne State changed its resident requirements to include undocumented Michigan students — a decision that Winters said happened separately from the Great Lakes expansion, which has been in the works since budget talks over the summer.

Some question whether it's fair to expand reduced prices for those who might not pay state taxes that benefit public universities — like those in nearby states or Ontario.

But Winters argues that expanding these lower prices may give a boost to Michigan’s dropping population.

“We’re a state that loses more population than it gains, so this is a program that may induce more people to become educated and stay.”

Winters says there are no plans to expand the policy to other universities — at least, not yet. But she’s optimistic that Wayne State’s latest “experiment” will keep students interested in not only the university, but Detroit itself.

“We’re in Midtown — a good place for young professionals,” Winters said. 

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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