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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

What Are College Enrollment Caps? Everything You Need to Know

What are Enrollment Caps?

College enrollment caps can either limit the total enrollment, the number of out-of-state students, or the number of students who can enroll in certain classes or programs at a university. Schools want to ensure they maintain certain student/faculty ratios, and maintain certain growth in different subject areas.

Both private and public universities may choose to implement enrollment caps. Sometimes state university systems implement a cap for all schools in the state system. If a school does not adhere to the cap, they may be forced to pay a fine. However, individual schools can also set their own enrollment caps based on their personal constraints and needs.

Limits on out-of-state students originated because state schools were designed to serve students in that individual state. As they receive money from state tax payers, they need to prioritize in-state students. If they begin enrolling too many out-of-state students, this won’t be possible.

However, out-of-state students are often more appealing to a university because their higher tuition cost brings the school more money (sometimes more than double the funds that in-state students bring). Enrolling more out-of-state students also means tuition can remain lower for in-state students. Additionally, out-of-state students may have different qualifications than in-state students such as higher test scores and GPAs, encouraging schools to accept them to boost their own reputation. Further, out-of-state students bring a unique perspective to universities and often stay in the state after college, adding to the state’s talent pool.

Changing Caps

Enrollment caps vary year to year and many schools have made big changes in recent years. For instance, it was ruled by the Alameda Superior Court that the University of California- Berkeley would have to reduce their enrollment by one third for 2022. This ruling was the result of a lawsuit by Save Berkely’s Neighborhood, a community group who was concerned increased enrollment would lead to housing scarcity as well as unwanted noise.

However, this ruling was overturned in March of 2022, allowing 3,000 more students to enroll for Fall of 2022.

The University of North Carolina system also experienced big changes in recent years.

The UNC System

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors last year increased the enrollment cap for out-of-state students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the state from 18% to 25%. Then, in April of 2022, the Board increased the cap for North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) and North Carolina Central University to 35%. Additionally, the cap for Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) was increased to a whopping 50%.

Many HBCUs are concentrated on the East Coast or in the South. Increasing out-of-state enrollment caps provides more options for students located across the country who are interested in attending a HBCU. The universities are thrilled to increase the diversity of their student body.

A&T is the largest HBCU in the United States. They had a particularly large increase in out-of-state applications within the last few years. The school is excited to be able to better fulfill the demand they’re experiencing.

The school had a 6% increase in overall enrollment in Fall 2021, compared to 2019. Currently, the school has over 9,000 students from North Carolina. However, they also have students who represent 48 states and 100 countries. The entering freshman class for 2021 held the highest standardized test scores the school has ever seen and had an average GPA of 3.7.

At ECSU, there was an increase of enrollment of 2.6% in Fall 2021, leading to the largest total enrollment the school has had since 2013. The school has explained they have a capacity to increase their student population, and their strategic location in the greater tidewater area of Virginia means they have an appeal to many out-of-state students. Although the school says they will continue to prioritize in-state NC students, they are also excited to expand their horizons and grow their university.

Should Students Care About Enrollment Caps?

Ultimately, a school’s enrollment caps shouldn’t be the reason prospective students apply or don’t apply to a university. But, caps are something that can help a prospective student better understand a school’s atmosphere, capacity, and goals. However, ultimately, caps are something that can’t be controlled by applicants and therefore shouldn’t hold much weight.

When working on applications, students should focus on the things that they can control. It is important to apply to a variety of schools where students have an array of chances of admission and work hard to submit the strongest application possible for each university.


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