How to Avoid Non-Resident Tuition Rates at Out-of-State Public Colleges

Applying to out-of-state public colleges can be appealing for any number of reasons. An out-of-state public university might offer a student’s ideal program or the school may be near members of the student’s extended family. Or it could just be location, location, location. Perhaps the student is drawn to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the beaches of Hawaii, or the hustle and bustle of New York. Whatever the reason, attending college out of state may seem like a great idea – until the sticker shock of non-resident tuition sets in.

Unlike private universities, which typically charge the same amount regardless of where in the U.S. a student resides, public colleges charge one amount for in-state students and a higher amount for out-of-state students. A state’s taxpayers fund its public universities, so it makes sense that students who are permanent residents of the state are offered lower tuition. The rationale for non-resident tuition comes back to taxpayer funding: Why should a California taxpayer foot the bill for a Massachusetts student to attend UCLA?

Because non-resident tuition is often more than double that of in-state tuition, it can be hard to make the case for students to cross state lines. At UCLA, for example, the cost of attendance (including room and board) for a California resident is $32,600, but for a non-resident it’s $60,600. Is that the amount a family wants to pay so that their student can bump up against impacted programs and spend six years in college? There are any number of private colleges that, for the same amount, could deliver a more personalized education and a diploma in four years.

Before paying sticker price, it’s worth exploring options for paying less at out-of-state public colleges.

Regional Reciprocity Agreements

Throughout the country, there are groups of public colleges and universities that have reciprocity agreements. Essentially, they allow one state’s students to attend another state’s public colleges at less than the non-resident rate. Here’s a rundown:

Western Undergraduate Exchange: Sixteen Western states and U.S. territories participate in WUE. Students pay a maximum of 150 percent of in-state tuition at participating community colleges and four-year universities. If an Oregon student is interested in getting an engineering degree, they have choices in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, and other states. If they were accepted as a WUE student into the University of New Mexico, their tuition rate would be $7,929 – decidedly better than UNM’s $20,549 nonresident rate, and only slightly higher than the $5,286 resident tuition. It’s important to keep in mind that WUE rates aren’t automatic and they’re not available for every major. When a student applies, they have to indicate that they’re interested in the WUE rate, and factors like grades and test scores may be taken into account.

New England Regional Student Program: Open to permanent residents of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, RSP encompasses 82 public colleges and universities. Students are eligible for RSP (also known as Tuition Break) when they apply to an out-of-state program that isn’t offered in their home state. They may also qualify if an out-of-state program is geographically closer to their home. The savings associated with RSP depends upon the college. At the University of New Hampshire, for example, the in-state tuition is $14,770, out-of-state is $29,340, and RSP is $25,865. At the University of Connecticut, in state is $11,998, out-of-state is $34,066, and RSP is $20,416.

Midwest Student Exchange Program: MSEP is similar to WUE in that the participating MSEP colleges and universities agree to cap tuition at 150 percent of in-state rates. Depending on the college, students may need to reapply for MSEP rates each year. There are ten participating states, and application requirements and discounts vary by college. For example, at Indiana’s Ball State College, in-state tuition is $9,234, non-resident tuition is $23,962, and the MSEP rate is $13,851. In order to get the discount, a freshman applicant must have a 3.3 or higher GPA. As with the other exchanges, not all majors are eligible for the MSEP rate. Some private colleges also offer a 10 percent discount through MSEP.

Academic Common Market: Encompassing 15 Southern states and 100 colleges, ACM offers students the opportunity to study programs not offered in a student’s home state while paying in-state tuition. Unlike the exchanges in other regions, ACM isn’t competitive or merit based, and it also offers access to out-of-state online programs at in-state rates. In order to obtain ACM eligibility, a student must provide residency documentation and become state certification.

Other Paths to Cheaper Tuition at Out-of-State Public Colleges

There are several other paths that can lower the price of out-of-state tuition. The requirements for actually establishing residency vary by state, and most states don’t make it easy to qualify for in-state tuition. In Colorado, for example, a student must be 22 years old before establishing a home in the state, and then must live there for 12 months before attending the first day of classes. The only workaround is to grant the minor emancipation, in which case the student has to prove that they have the means to pay their own education and living expenses.

There are also institution-specific ways to be granted in-state tuition, such as having a parent who is an alumnus or having a parent who is active duty military and stationed in the state. Sometimes there are single-state reciprocity programs in place, or a specific college will open the doors to students from particular states. In Texas, non-resident students who receive competitive scholarships of at least $4,000 can pay in-state tuition. It always pays for students to look at the residency requirements and exemptions for specific states and schools to see if there’s a path to in-state tuition.

Out-of-state public colleges have much to offer students – but only when the price is right. Taking advantage of regional reciprocity agreements or finding a path to in-state tuition can deliver a stellar college experience and a degree that won’t break the bank.

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About the Author:

Sally Smith is a college and scholarship coach who helps families navigate the path after high school. She facilitates in-person and online group workshops, and provides one-on-one coaching on a variety of topics. Sally can help families gain an understanding of the college selection, application, and decision process; pinpoint scholarship opportunities; write effective college admission and scholarship essays; decipher the FAFSA and CSS Profile; gather stellar letters of recommendation; and develop strategies for college entrance testing and test preparation. To learn more about the services she provides and to schedule a free 30-minute consultation, visit

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