COLUMBIA, Mo. – Students from Chicago and the rest of Illinois are increasingly calling the University of Missouri home.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Illinois students now make up more than 20 percent of Mizzou's freshman class. That's up from just 6 percent in 2000.
A recent Tribune analysis of U.S. Department of Education data found that nearly one-fourth of all first-time Illinois college students left the state, compared to 17 percent a decade earlier.
The increase is part of the Columbia school's aggressive recruiting strategy, which includes two full-time recruiters in Chicago. A Mizzou fraternity recently added a position of Illinois rush chair just to recruit students from the Windy City.
"I had no idea how many people came here from Chicago," said freshman Madi Ahsmann, 18, from Crystal Lake, who has a Blackhawks towel hanging in the room she shares with a student from Kildeer.
Of the approximately 30,000 college freshmen who left Illinois, half ended up in Iowa, Indiana, Missouri or Wisconsin. Illinois in turn imported about 17,000 students from elsewhere in the country.
Diane Dean, an Illinois State University education professor who studies college student migration, said the growing exodus has implications state lawmakers shouldn't ignore.
"Other schools cherry-pick – and they are recruiting them with money," Dean said. "These aren't just any students who are leaving. These are the highly talented students. We are not talking about 20 people who went to the University of Denver because they loved skiing."
Freshmen enrollment at the University of Missouri's flagship campus included 1,370 from Illinois, a record 21 percent of the class. Ten years ago, the school enrolled just 318 freshmen from Illinois.
The Missouri approach includes recognition of increasing competition and a steeper price tag at Illinois' flagship public school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Missouri has long drawn students from throughout the country to its well-known journalism school. But a decade ago, university officials realized they needed to broaden their applicant pool as the number of Missouri high school graduates was expected to decline. Officials turned their focus to Illinois, creating a Chicago-specific admissions brochure with information about automatic tuition scholarships for high-achieving students from other states.
"It has all been deliberate," said Ann Korschgen, the university's vice provost for enrollment management.
Zac Shenderovsky, 17, a senior from Mundelein, was won over by Mizzou on a recent tour.
"It just has this good feel to it," he said.
Shenderovsky's father, Irv, liked something the school is less likely to advertise: Non-Missouri students can qualify relatively easily for in-state tuition, saving $12,000 off the $22,440 annual nonresident tuition. To do so, students are required to live in Missouri for 12 consecutive months, earn at least $2,000 a year, have a Missouri driver's license and voter registration card and meet a few other requirements. And nonresident students who score at least a 27 on the ACT receive automatic $2,000 to $5,500 scholarships
The influx of students can lead to some culture clashes and friendly ribbing.
"They always talk about the Chicago hot dogs like they're something special," joked senior Alon Gilboa, a fraternity member from St. Louis. "They bring their strange foods and strange customs. I guess we have to get used to it now."