Amid virus, US students look to colleges closer to home

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In this June 1, 2020 photo, high school graduate Lizzie Quinlivan wears a Georgetown University cap at her home in Hingham, Mass. Quinlivan has opted to attend closer-to-home Georgetown instead of colleges on the west coast which were on her original wish-list. As students make college plans for this fall, some U.S. universities are seeing surging interest from in-state students looking to stay closer to home amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

As students make college plans for the fall, some U.S. universities are seeing surging interest from in-state residents who are looking to stay closer to home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

At the University of Texas at Arlington, commitments from state residents are up 26% over last year. Ohio State and Western Kentucky universities are both up about 20%. Deposits paid to attend Michigan State University are up 15% among state residents, while deposits from others are down 15%.

Colleges and admissions counselors credit the uptick to a range of factors tied to the pandemic. Students want to be closer to home in case an outbreak again forces classes online. Some are choosing nearby schools where they're charged lower rates as state residents. And amid uncertainty around the fall term, some are paying deposits at multiple schools to keep their options open.

At the same time, scores of universities are bracing for sharp downturns in international enrollments amid visa issues and travel concerns. The result, some schools say, is that campuses will have a more local feel if they're allowed to reopen this fall.

“We are going to be a more regional and local university,” Bob McMaster, vice provost of the University of Minnesota, told the school's board of regents at a May meeting. “The spheres of geography have certainly changed this year.”

Universities across the U.S. have ramped up recruiting efforts amid fears that the pandemic would spur students to rethink their plans. Schools have accepted more students and reached far deeper into wait lists than in the past. Some have increased financial aid. And some have focused on recruiting students in their own backyards.

At the University of Minnesota, recruiters shifted attention away from bigger cities to focus on Minnesota, Wisconsin and other nearby states, McMaster said. In May, New Jersey launched a campaign urging students who had left to “come home” for college.

Lisa Gelman, a private admissions counselor with Apt Tutoring in Massachusetts, said many students are rethinking earlier decisions to study far away or in cities that have become virus hot spots, including New York.