Here’s How to Save $9,000 on College by Qualifying for In-State Tuition

in state tuition for out of state students

Applying to establish residency for in-state college tuition is a hassle. It can take a year to complete, and it might force you to sever all ties with your home state.

Fortunately, there’s another way to score in-state tuition for out-of-state students — regional reciprocity programs.

With out-of-state tuition for four-year public schools costing an average of $9,000 more than in-state rates, according to The College Board, this option is worth your attention.

Another path to in-state tuition for out-of-state students

Sometimes referred to as tuition exchange programs, regional reciprocity programs give students one more way to score discounted college tuition. If you’re among them, you could use these programs to afford schools beyond your state’s borders.

The four major regional programs limit you to neighboring states. Each program has its subtleties, but all four share certain characteristics.

For one, these programs allow you to secure discounted tuition (not room and board or books) at an out-of-state school if you major in a particular field. You might also have to maintain a baseline GPA entering and during your enrollment.

For another, you’ll want to apply for aid as early as possible, as each program or specific school’s allotment could dry up. The application process itself depends on your region. You might apply directly with your school or have to work through your state’s education board initially.

At Arizona State University (ASU), for example, you’re directed to complete a typical admissions application and choose an approved major. After being admitted to ASU, you would be informed whether you qualify for in-state tuition or discounted tuition.

4 regional programs to help you qualify for in-state tuition

Just as in-state tuition requirements vary from school to school, each region is a little bit different. Let’s work our way from west to east.

Only one of the following programs will apply to you, so feel free to skip ahead to the one that does.

1. Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)

States covered: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education helps 40,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students secure discounted tuition each year.

Through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program, students looking to attend two- or four-year public schools can save money on tuition. You can use the WUE’s search engine to find schools and their admission requirements. There’s also a complete list of participating schools.

Last year, the WUE program saved 34,000 students about $265 million. You could score a reduced tuition of 150 percent of a school’s in-state rate. Here’s an example of your potential savings:

In-state tuition $10,000
Out-of-state tuition $20,000
WUE-reduced out-of-state tuition $15,000 (150 percent $10,000)
Your savings $5,000

2. Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP)

States covered: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin (Iowa and South Dakota do not currently participate.)

As part of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) website makes it simple for you to find participating colleges. Enter your home state, the degree type you’re seeking, and the type of university you’d like to attend — and, voila, you’ll see a list of possible landing spots.

Another benefit of your region’s program: the ability to apply for discounted tuition rates at private schools as well as public.

The MSEP site also provides you estimates of how much you could save by leveraging the regional program.

At approved public schools, you’ll pay no more than 150 percent of the in-state tuition rate; private schools provide a 10 percent discount. The MSEP saves participating students between $500 and $5,000 per year.

3. Academic Common Market (ACA)

States covered: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia (Florida and Texas only offer discounted tuition to graduate students.)

A part of the Southern Regional Education Board, the Academic Common Market includes over 1,900 degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. It could be your go-to resource if you can’t qualify for in-state tuition in your dream school’s state.

Like the country’s other regional organizations, it places restrictions based on your specific program of study. It won’t take long toying with the ACA’s search engine to learn that.

There’s one more hurdle to clear at the ACA. Before applying for the lower tuition rate, you’ll have to apply to your state’s education board to be certified as a resident. In the process, you might be required to supply your:

  • Driver’s license
  • Voter registration
  • State tax return

In-state tuition might be waiting for you on the other side. Unlike other regional programs, the ACA and its participating schools award in-state tuition for out-of-state students in unique majors.

4. New England Regional Student Program (RSP)

States covered: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

Under the watch of the New England Board of Higher Education, the New England Regional Student Program (RSP), also known as Tuition Break, covers more than 800 undergraduate and graduate degree programs at 82 public schools in the region.

Like other regional programs, your major might limit the number of schools where you can score discounted out-of-state tuition. The RSP’s search engine will whittle down your list.

If you do find the right school for you, the savings could be substantial. As an out-of-state student, you can pay between 50 percent and 175 percent of the in-state rate, depending on the school.

During the 2016-2017 academic year, 9,000-plus New England residents saved $60 million in tuition. The average full-time student saw a tuition cut of $8,033.

Good news if you’re not sure about your college choice: The RSP program also allows transfer students at 1,000-plus bachelor’s degree programs at 41 public schools to qualify for lower tuition.

More ways to skirt in-state tuition requirements

If you’re beginning to navigate the financial aid maze, it’s important to know that regional tuition-break programs are just one pathway to in-state tuition for out-of-state students.

There might also be school-specific programs depending on your home state, or even your home county. Here are a couple of examples.

  • State example: Minnesota residents can qualify for a lower nonresident tuition rate at the University of North Dakota.
  • County example: Residents of seven Indiana counties (Clark, Crawford, Floyd, Harrison, Perry, Scott, and Washington) are eligible for the in-state tuition rate at the nearby University of Louisville in Kentucky.

At every step of the financing process, consult your school’s in-state tuition requirements and your home state’s grant aid programs.

Although it’s not required for reciprocity programs, you should fill out the FAFSA every year you’re in school. In case your regional program doesn’t fit your needs, you’ll still be able to apply for financial aid that way.

Racking up scholarships can also help you avoid student loans, or at least from taking out more of them. They could even be your ticket to your dream out-of-state school. If you come up short, now you know how to take advantage of your region’s tuition-discount program.

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