The dilemma of the regional public university

Regionals face pressure from community colleges--everyone's darlings right now--on the one hand and flagship universities on the other. Why should students attend?  The answer to that question in the key to survival. From The Washington Post.

Regional public colleges — the ‘middle children’ of higher ed — struggle to survive
Unlike their flagship counterparts, regional public universities can’t as easily rely on private donations, big research grants, or higher-paying out-of-state students to make up for what the state cut in funding. In the Northeast and Midwest, declining numbers of high-school graduates means that many regional schools can’t even fill their classes. And now, President Obama’s proposal to make community college free further threatens to drain federal and state dollars from the coffers of regional public institutions. 
For regional public universities to survive, a handful states in the Northeast and Midwest need fewer of them. But it’s often impossible to merge or close these colleges because they have strong political support in state legislatures given the schools are often the largest local employer.
In absence of that option, these colleges need to pare back the graduate programs they added during the past two decades to better compete with the flagship universities — programs that are really mediocre at best and swallow up precious resources. For example, since 1990, 100 regional public universities added a graduate degree in parks, recreation, and fitness, according to Fryar at the University of Oklahoma. More than 50 schools added graduate degrees in business, education, and public administration.
Instead, these regional public colleges should differentiate themselves from the bigger public flagships with lower-cost bachelor’s degrees and focus on improving undergraduate education by responding to local workforce needs. These regional colleges might not get all the attention of elite private colleges or flagship public universities, but they serve an important middle market for students and their families who need such basic choices as the cost of college spirals ever upward.

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