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Today's college applicants are in for a shock: Not only do their state universities cost more than ever before, but some are now turning away even some of the best local students.

The reason: budget cuts. With government funding slashed, state schools are increasingly favoring out-of-state students, who pay two to three times more in tuition than students from in the state.

This is coming at a time when, for many students, state universities represent the last chance at an affordable education.

"Unfortunately, I think the trend will continue," said Daniel J. Hurley, the director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "It is one of many, many strategies that public universities have been engaging in" recently to generate revenue.

Brandon Stover, a Seattle high school senior, figured he was a shoo-in for acceptance to the University of Washington, the state's flagship college in his backyard.

He had maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average, added rigorous International Baccalaureate courses to his schedule and been named class valedictorian. Still, he got the slim envelope, The Seattle Times reported.

But Stover's shock turned to resentment when he learned that the UW had cut 150 state residents from its freshman class to replace them with nonresidents -- students whose parents had not been paying Washington state taxes and who, in some cases, had weaker grades than Stover's. That was in addition to the 150 out-of-state students the university already had added.

Cutting the resident allotment wasn't an easy decision for the UW to make, administrators reported. But the state of Washington, facing a $5 billion shortfall, had sliced its contribution to the university in half, by $217 million over the next two years.

By boosting the number of out-of-state students, who pay $25,300 in tuition compared with the $8,700 residents pay, the university will generate an additional $6.3 million in the next school year. Nonresidents pay so much more, in fact, that they essentially fund the schooling of residents, who will still constitute 68% of the freshman class in the fall.

"That's just good business sense, that we need to squeeze more revenue yield out of nonresident students," said UW spokesman Norm Arkans.

Indeed, it is a perfectly rational and wise decision -- for a boardroom. But when corporate thinking prevails, what's next? The UW, founded with a mission to serve its state, still receives 45% of its core funding from taxpayers.

"If you're going to tell higher education to act more like a business, and you give them flexibility, and you offer them customers who are willing to pay three times as much for that education, it's an unsurprising choice what they're going to do," said Quinn Majeski, a senior in political science at the UW and the director of the Office of Government Relations for the Associated Students of the University of Washington. "They're going to take the customers, the out-of-state students, that are going to pay three times as much."

Dramatic shift in California

The UW is hardly alone. The University of California system, renowned worldwide for its commitment to higher education for its residents, is boosting out-of-state enrollment again to help compensate for a projected half-billion dollars in state aid cuts.

The current reduction follows $637 million in cuts two years earlier, the greatest since the Depression. After that hit, campuses practically halted faculty recruitment, raised tuition, dropped courses and enlarged classes to the point of overflowing. Educators warned that the state's economic growth was in jeopardy.

Most of those faculty members could recall when the state of California contributed 78% of a resident's education -- as recently as 1990. In a dramatic shift, students will now contribute more money to the university system's core funding than the state will, for the first time since the first campus was founded in 1868.

"For those who believe what we provide is a public good, not a private one, this is a sad threshold to cross," Mark Yudof, the president of the University of California system, told the Board of Regents in January. "But in California it's been a long time in coming."

To historians, public higher education is an American ideal and one that made America great. While higher education was once reserved for the privileged few, college doors were flung open after the Morrill Act of 1862 provided land grants for state universities, "in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes."