Southern universities are freer, more diverse and are attracting students from across the country

Samuel J. Abrams (AEI): "If high school students want a politically heterodox education, they should look to the South."

Why are more and more young people from the north heading south for college? Town & Country magazine asks this question in a related report on the many young people flocking from the north of the country to more southern locations when looking for a university.

The magazine tells the story of Brennan Vincent. She was trying to figure out where she would pursue a college degree when her father suggested she consider Auburn, Alabama. Although it is a long way from New York City where they live, he himself attended university there and is proud to have done so. The magazine says:

She is part of a growing trend among high school students in liberal hubs like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago who are deciding to forgo the competitive, cutthroat environments of Colgate and Columbia for the more rah-rah vibe of places like Auburn, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, Clemson, the University of Miami, and other Southern institutions that have traditionally been written off by coastal snobs as football-and-frat-party schools that let anyone with a measurable GPA in their doors.

Going south

The phenomenon itself is not new. The magazine acknowledges that southern universities have always welcomed students from other parts of the country, "thanks to reputations as rigorous schools in cool places."

What is new is that several other universities are joining that select group of desired universities. The magazine says:

Fifty-seven percent of the incoming freshman class at Texas Christian University, a midsize school in Fort Worth—where students walk around in cowboy boots on the mornings of school football games and down BBQ and queso at the Stockyards, a preserved Western district in town—are from out of state. Seventeen percent of those hail from California. Compare that to 2008, when more than 70 percent of TCU’s incoming freshmen were from Texas. Thirty miles down the road, at Southern Methodist University, a $79,000-a-year, Tara-like oasis in the middle of Dallas famous for boulevarding (high-class tailgating) and alums like Bumble co-founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd, 62 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen are from out of state.


So the question is the exactly what the magazine was asking: Why are more and more young people from the north heading south for college? The climate has not changed in either the north or the south, nor does demographic evolution explain this trend. What is it, then?

The magazine focuses on a very important cultural issue as far as universities are concerned: George Floyd's death triggered studies devoted to racial issues from the perspective of Critical Race Theory, a racist view of society. Sex is also taught as a divisive element in society as well as the ideology of identity and woke floods everything. According to the magazine:

This dynamic has begun to infiltrate the college admissions cycle, as conservative families consider what type of environments they want for their kids after high school. Liberal elite colleges, as they see it, promise only more wokeism. Why not send their children to a place that’s more about Greek life than social justice seminars?

Greater freedom and diversity

This still does not explain why southern universities are so attractive to students. However, Christopher Rim, CEO, and founder of the university consulting company Command Education, points out that there are cases in which universities in the south are freer and more diverse and allow for a sense of community unique to universities that are truly dedicated to broadening students' knowledge. 

Samuel J. Abrams, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), believes the following: 

Earlier survey work of a relatively small number of college and university students revealed that the nation’s Southern schools remain places where Gen Z Americans—those currently in high school and college—can go to find the greatest number of politically open-minded students. New data from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE)’s recent study of almost 45,000 currently enrolled students at over 200 colleges and universities around the nation help flesh out this Southern exceptionalism.

When asked to state where current students think the political views of the average student on their respective campuses fall, Sothern schools are far more balanced than those in liberal New England. Southern students report that 38 percent of their peers are very or somewhat liberal and another 12 are very or somewhat conservative. The plurality of Southern students (48 percent), are in the middle or simply do not think much about politics. In New England, the numbers look notably different: 67 percent of students are believed to be liberal while just 30 percent are in the middle or do not care about politics. In the Mid-Atlantic, home to deep blue areas and many colleges and universities, 58 percent of students think that their peers are liberal, which is lower than in New England but still far higher than those in the South.

In light of this situation, Abrams believes that "If high school students want a politically heterodox education, they should look to the South. At Southern schools, they will not be sheltered from 21st-century ideas or the realities of the world; they also won’t be cocooned in a liberal bubble with so many like-minded student peers."