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In competition for students, some area colleges erase in-state tuition parameters

Tayler Leverenz, 19, is from Illinois, but is taking advantage of the University of Missouri-St. Louis' offering of in-state tuition for Illinois residents.
Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio

There’s a tug-of-war happening across the Mississippi River for students in the St. Louis region, with some colleges erasing the borders of in-state tuition prices to help navigate tough financial times.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale was the vanguard in the area, offering Missouri students a reduced price in 2009, a move that’s resulted in 95 more students from west of the Mississippi in the last five years. And the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which for five years has offered in-state tuition for Metro East residents, is expanding that benefit to all Illinois residents.

But the big winners in all of this are the students, who now have more colleges to choose from and at more affordable prices.

Tayler Leverenz, 19, is one of about 100 Illinois residents to choose UMSL. The business and marketing research major wanted to get away from her small hometown of Divernon, Illinois, and into a bigger city. Plus, she said, too many of her high school classmates were going to Southern Illinois University’s campus in Edwardsville.

Despite being another 30 minutes beyond SIUE, the University of Missouri-St. Louis might as well have been another country.

“Literally no one that I know went to UMSL,” she said, adding that the “Metro Rate” tuition at UMSL is only a little bit more than what she would have paid to go to school with her friends.

“I’m going to actually come out of UMSL, because of the metro rate, with no loans,” Leverenz said.

Plenty of students are going in the opposite direction too, with 479 more Missouri residents going to SIU’s Edwardsville campus since the school began offering them in-state tuition in 2014.

“To not acknowledge that we’re part of a major metropolitan area, including being a resource for students from both sides of the river, we thought was just kind of foolish,” said Scott Belobrajdic, SIUE’s vice chancellor for enrollment.

SIUE’s in-state tuition is $8,352 a year, about $1,700 cheaper than UMSL. It's also been building, adding dormitories to fit more residential students, a change from when it was historically a commuter campus.

As a result, the Edwardsville school has seen a jump in student population, breaking 14,000 for the first time in 2015. Meanwhile, UMSL and SIU-Carbondale are trying to figure out how to reverse five-year slumps in enrollment.

“We have to make sure we’re charging enough to deliver a top-flight education,” Belobrajdic said. “And then we have to be aware of what the competition is doing. And competition is good for students, I think. It keeps us all in check.”

Several other state university systems in the Midwest offer equal or reduced prices for students from bordering states. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a discounted rate for Minnesota residents, and Minnesota’s state schools reduce the price for people from Wisconsin, Manitoba, Canada and other border states. SIU’s Carbondale campus extends the Illinois in-state price — $9,090 a year — to bordering states like Kentucky and Indiana.

UMSL hopes to gain another 140 students by expanding its Metro Rate all over Illinois. Since 2012, Illinois students have brought in additional $500 million in revenue, UM chief financial officer Ryan Rapp told the Board of Curators earlier this month.

“Being able to increase revenue through out-of-state students actually increases the quality of the offering for the Missouri student at UMSL,” he said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney.

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.