Gaining admission to the University of Massachusetts' flagship campus in Amherst is, on average, more difficult for Massachusetts residents than for those who live outside the state, a new report suggests.
The Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank which released the study on Tuesday, said it challenges the widely-accepted belief that nonresident applicants are held to more rigorous academic standards than their Massachusetts counterparts.
Researchers who examined university records from 2010 to 2016 found that, on average, out-of-state undergraduates admitted to UMass-Amherst had lower high school GPAs and lower SAT scores than in-state students during that period.
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For nonresidents accepted to the university in 2016, the average GPA was 3.78 and average composite SAT score was 1242, compared to an average GPA of 3.97 and composite SAT of 1265 for accepted in-state students.
"The numbers imply that Massachusetts residents are held to a higher standard for admission," the report stated.
But such a practice has potential for controversy, the authors concluded, because the university's central mission is to serve the citizens of Massachusetts -- who contribute tax dollars to the school -- and provide an affordable higher education option for qualified residents unable to meet the costs of private colleges and universities.
Nonresident students who attend UMass pay significantly higher tuition than in-state students.
UMass-Amherst officials responded to NBC10 Boston Monday evening. In a statement, spokesman Ed Blaguszewski says in part, "The university’s enrollment of out-of-state students has increased as state support for UMass has stagnated. Out-of-state enrollment is one way that UMass offsets this decline in funding."
The reports recommends that state officials consider placing caps on out-of-state enrollment and that the university conduct an analysis to determine how many of the non-residents it educates remain in Massachusetts after graduating.
"If out-of-state graduates stay here in large numbers to expand the economy and fill jobs in areas where labor shortages exist, the university's current policy may yield benefits," said Mary Connaughton, Pioneer's director of government transparency.
The report makes clear that academic standards for admission to UMass have been on the rise for all students for more than decade, with a corresponding drop in overall acceptance rates. But the proportion of nonresident students at Amherst has climbed 63 percent since 2004, a higher percentage increase than at the university's three other undergraduate campuses in Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell.
UMass-Amherst has set a 25 percent goal for out-of-state undergraduate enrollment, reaching 23 percent in the fall 2017 semester.
While many public university systems have made conscious efforts to bolster out-of-state enrollment for a variety of financial, academic and cultural reasons, there has been backlash over the policies in other states.
In 2017, the Board of Regents of the University of California approved its first-ever enrollment cap, of 18 percent, on nonresident undergraduates at most campuses, heeding calls from the public to reserve more spots at its campuses for California residents.
The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was penalized $1 million in state funds in 2016 for exceeding an 18 percent cap on out-of-state freshmen in two successive years.