Little-Known Ways to Pay In-State Tuition Rates at Out-of-State Colleges

A public college in another state may not be out of your financial reach.

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

Families looking to trim college costs often steer their students toward public colleges in their home state instead of public colleges in another state or private institutions. Public colleges and universities typically charge two different tuition rates: one for state residents and another, much higher one for students from outside the state. The difference in sticker price (before financial aid awards are considered) is significant. During the 2015-16 academic year, the average annual sticker price—including tuition, fees and room and board—for an in-state student attending a four-year public college was $19,548. The average annual sticker price for an out-of-state student attending a four-year public college was $34,031.

But attending a public college in another state may be more affordable than you think. The lower, in-state tuition at public colleges isn’t always reserved for students who reside in the state. A number of regional, state and college-specific programs allow some students to qualify for in-state or heavily discounted tuition at out-of-state public schools. “Many of these programs fly under the radar for families,” says Tom Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the Association of State Colleges and Universities. But students who meet the eligibility requirements can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

For details about these programs, including who qualifies, have your student consult his or her high school guidance counselor as well as the websites and admissions offices at the schools he or she is considering. Some schools limit the number of students who can receive the discount each year, so your student should apply for the reduced tuition as early as possible.

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Regional Discounts

Four regional compacts help students from nearly every state catch a break when it comes to paying for college across state lines. Qualifying students from 13 southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) can apply for in-state tuition at participating out-of-state colleges through the Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market. And residents of six New England states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) who enroll in an eligible program pay in-state tuition at 82 public colleges and universities in the area’s Regional Student Program. For both of these regional programs, students must pursue a major that isn’t offered in their home state to qualify for the tuition discounts.

The Midwest Student Exchange program lets students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin receive tuition discounts at more than 100 participating colleges and universities. Public colleges in the program agree to charge eligible students no more than 150% of the school’s in-state tuition, and participating private colleges cut 10% off the cost of tuition for students from the region. Students typically save between $500 and $5,000 per year. The Western Undergraduate Exchange program offers eligible students from 15 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) 150% of the in-state tuition rate at participating public colleges across the region.

Neither the midwestern nor the western regional program require that students pursue a major not available in their home state, but each program does allow colleges and universities to add their own restrictions.

Friendly Neighbors

In addition to the regional agreements, some states have their own smaller reciprocity programs or offer flexibility when it comes to determining who qualifies for in-state tuition. Some of the arrangements apply to students from anywhere within a neighboring state; others extend only to students living in specific counties of the neighboring state or close to the state line. For example, Colorado and New Mexico have an agreement that allows qualifying students from either state to get in-state pricing in both states – a better deal than the regional Western Undergraduate Exchange program. Students from Minnesota and Wisconsin have a similar arrangement, allowing residents of either state to pay in-state rates at the other state’s public institutions. And students from Washington, D.C., can receive up to $10,000 each year toward the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at any eligible public, four-year college in the U.S.

Individual College Programs

To attract more out-of-state students, some public colleges offer out-of-state students a discount on tuition through their own programs. For example, the University of Maine at Orono recently began offering students from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont its education at the same sticker price (tuition and fees) as that of the public flagship in the student’s home state. To qualify for the best deal, students must earn at least a 3.0 grade-point average and score a combined 1120 on the SAT. Students from other states who meet the academic standards can receive $13,200 off the University of Maine’s out-of-state tuition and fees ($29,480 for 2016-17). Students with lower GPAs and scores can receive a $9,000 discount.

At Texas A&M University (#180 on our list of best college values in 2016), non-Texans who earn a competitive scholarship of at least $1,000 also qualify to pay in-state tuition and fees. For 2016-17, that’s a savings of more than $20,000 for out-of-state students. Similarly, the University of Arkansas will waive 70% to 90% of the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for students from Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas who earn at least a 3.2 GPA and score at least 1160 on the SAT.

Special Circumstances

Even if your student doesn’t qualify for a regional or state reciprocity program or a program offered by a specific school, your family may qualify for a deal based on military or public service. For example, recent veterans of the U.S. military can receive in-state tuition rates at any public college or university in the country. And children of service members who are on active duty for more than 30 days qualify for in-state tuition where they currently live, regardless of how long their family has lived there or whether the family moves out of state while the students are still enrolled in school. Some colleges extend similar in-state tuition offers to students with parents who work in public service, such as police officers, firefighters and sometimes teachers.

Kaitlin Pitsker
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Pitsker joined Kiplinger in the summer of 2012. Previously, she interned at the Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and with Chronogram magazine in Kingston, N.Y. She holds a BS in magazine journalism from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.