Tracking student migration

Massachusetts is a winner under the Regional Student Program, while New Hampshire is a loser

a program set up to provide more educational opportunity for New England college students is proving to be a brain gain for some states and a brain drain for others.

Massachusetts and Maine are big winners, while New Hampshire and Connecticut are losing more students than they’re taking in. For Vermont and Rhode Island, the program is largely a wash.

The Regional Students Program allows a student in New England to attend a public university anywhere in the region at a discount off of the standard out-of-state tuition rate as long as the academic program the student is pursuing is not available in his or her home state. A separate but related program allows students who live in one state but are in close proximity to a school in another state to attend the out-of-state school at the discounted rate. For that program, there are fewer restrictions on the academic program being pursued.

During the last school year, 9,533 students participated in the two programs and more than half of them attended schools in Massachusetts. Overall, state schools in Massachusetts attracted 4,935 students from other New England states, while 2,430 Bay State residents attended state schools elsewhere in the region.

Within Massachusetts, community colleges attracted 2,504 students from out of state who were participating in the program. Another 1,369 ended up at state universities and 1,062 attended one of the campuses in the UMass system. Northern Essex Community College, with campuses in Lawrence and Haverhill, was the biggest winner overall, attracting 1,160 students from other states. UMass Lowell was second, pulling in 790 students.

New Hampshire experienced the largest brain drain of any New England state, with 809 students coming into the state and 3,176 leaving to attend schools in other states. More than half of the students leaving New Hampshire — 2,633 — ended up at public schools in Massachusetts.

Connecticut also was a net loser, importing 1,018 students from other New England states and exporting 1,660 of its own residents. Of the students leaving Connecticut, 974 — nearly 60 percent — came to Massachusetts.

The Regional Students Program does not capture all student migration within the region, but it provides some insight into the potential strengths and weaknesses of the various state university programs. Within the regional program, the number of students moving between states has steadily increased over the last decade, but the pattern of student movement between states has remained fairly steady.

New Hampshire policymakers are worried about that pattern. A recent study issued by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies reported that, if current enrollment trends continue, the number of degrees issued to state residents could start declining by 2025. The report said a falloff in state graduates could hinder the state’s future economic growth.

“As the state’s population ages in coming years, developing a highly skilled, flexible workforce will be essential to ensuring continued economic prosperity and competitive advantage,” the report said.

Meet the Author
The same report also identified a possible correlation between declining enrollment and increasing tuition rates. On that score, New Hampshire faces real problems. After funding for the New Hampshire higher education system was slashed in 2011, the University of New Hampshire raised tuition and fees for state residents to a level that ranks the school among the highest in the country, on a par with the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University. New Hampshire recently instituted a tuition freeze to halt that trend, but there’s been no downturn in rates.

New Hampshire doesn’t fare well in most regional price comparisons between public universities. For a student participating in the Regional Student Program, the annual tuition to the University of New Hampshire is $26,805, well above the $15,457 that UMass Amherst charges, a figure that’s even less than the $16,552 in-state rate that the University of New Hampshire charges.

UMass Lowell benefits from the Regional Student Program because it is close to border towns such as Nashua and Pelham and also because it targets New Hampshire students. The school’s staff actively looks for students eligible for the regional and proximity programs, going to school fairs and hockey games to make the case. “Southern New Hampshire has always been a principal market,” says Kerri Johnston, the director of undergraduate enrollment at UMass Lowell.