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Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Ins & Outs of The Public Ivies

How America’s top public universities fill classrooms and gaps in funding with out-of-state student enrollment

By Peyton Chance

Where are you from, exactly?

In 1986 the University of North Carolina Board of Governors created policy 700.1.3 which limited out-of-state enrollment at UNC system schools to 18% of the incoming first-year class. Coincidentally, just one year before, Richard Moll first coined the term "Public Ivies", a group of top-tier public universities to which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill belongs. The capped out-of-state enrollment at UNC is much lower than at peer universities. The bar graph below shows the undergraduate student population of three top public universities based on students’ geographical origin.

Undergraduate Students by Residency Status at Public Ivies

Out-of-state students make up nearly double the proportion of total enrollment at U-Va. as they do at UNC-Chapel Hill. Without the restriction of strict quotas, the University of Virginia’s undergraduate student body is roughly 30% out-of-state. These students paid $45,276 each in tuition in fees in the 2016-2017 school year - a pretty penny for a top-tier public education far from home.

Tuition revenue paints a nuanced portrait of admission trends at the Public Ivies

It comes as no surprise that out-of-state students at public universities pay more in tuition and fees than their in-state peers. How this well-known disparity impacts total revenue, however, paints a more nuanced picture of university finances in 2017. At UNC-Chapel Hill, out-of-state students make up 18-19% of the student body. Their contributions to total tuition revenue, however, was 46%. Less than one-fifth of the UNC-Chapel Hill student body generates nearly half of the tuition revenue. This proportion has fluctuated between 46% and 50% since 2000.

The charts below show the evolution of out-of-state enrollment at UNC-Chapel Hill, U-Va. and UC-Berkeley from 2005 to 2017.

Percentage of Undergraduates from Out of State

Percentage of Tuition Revenue Generated from Out-of-State Students

In 2005, only 9% of the UC-Berkeley undergraduate student body was from out of state. By 2016, that proportion had reached 24%. The enrollment shift allowed UC-Berkeley to meet its peers in generating roughly half of all tuition revenue from out-of-state students. The University of Virginia has consistently generated more of its tuition from out-of-state students than UNC-Chapel Hill and UC-Berkeley, with 55% of its $673 million in tuition revenue coming from outside Virginia’s borders in 2016.

A 2016 article in The Daily Tar Heel quoted a representative of the Campaign for College Opportunity as saying, “The reason why they’re doing it is because of inconsistent state funding. They’re going to try to enroll more out-of-state students to pay for in-state students.” This trend, the article explains, came in the wake of the 2008 recession.

The trend of enrolling out-of-state students helps generate much-needed revenue as state legislatures across the country have reduced their education spending. Many state residents argue that this tactic defies the mission behind public universities, which are, in theory, designed to be of and for the people of their state.

Not your parents' tuition

Since 1947, tuition at UNC-Chapel Hill has risen exponentially. An out-of-state student paid just $244 for the 1947-1955 school year. In 2016-2017 that same student would be required to pay $33,916 for the same education. Even adjusting for inflation, the 2017 tuition is 13 times more than its 1947 counterpart.

The tool below allows you to calculate how much you, your parents and your grandparents would have paid to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. The tool assumes a generational gap of 25 years and does not account for inflation. A tool to quickly adjust for inflation as you explore can be found here.

Select your residency status

In-State Out-of-State

Enter the year you entered UNC
(most recent = 2016)




Your Parents


Your Grandparents


The UNC-Chapel Hill data for this story came from the UNC Office of Institutional Research & Assessment and UNC Libraries. Data on tuition and enrollment at the University of California at Berkeley came from the Univeristy of California System Infocenter and the UC-Berkeley Office of the Registrar. Data on tuition at the University of Virginia came from the Univeristy Registrar and the U-Va. Budget Office. Enrollment numbers were provided by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.