Colleges with Lowest Out-of-State Tuition

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Only 28 percent of high school graduates attend college out-of-state. Since non-residents generally spend three to four times what in-state students pay for the privilege, many don’t even consider schools beyond their state border. This financial barrier, however, is not impossible to overcome. Students can secure in-state tuition rates, or something close to it, for those out-of-state schools and add exciting new college choices to their list. Take a closer look at why students may want to consider out-of-state schools, find out the difference between resident and non-resident status and tuition rates and learn strategies for bridging that financial gap if you want to go out-of-state.

FAQ’s on In-State vs Out-of-State Tuition

Students who attend public colleges and universities in the state where they reside generally pay far less than students who come to the same school from a different state. There is a common misconception that there are no exceptions to this rule. In reality, there are several ways to get discounts—or even to secure in-state tuition rates—for schools in states where they’ve never lived. Read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions on this subject.

1. Why should I consider an out-of-state school?

According to the New York Times, there are a variety of reasons students attend colleges out-of-state. Some weren’t accepted to their flagship in-state schools or were fleeing rising tuition rates and declining financial aid services at home. In other cases, students were drawn to regional attractions, like skiing in Colorado or going to college near the beach. Other times, students were lured by high-reputation educational or athletic programs at prestigious universities, or even lucrative financial incentives offered by out-of-state schools.

2. Why does out-of-state tuition cost so much more than in-state?

State governments, which have a large degree of control over public colleges and universities, pay for a sizeable portion of the costs associated with students attending public, state schools. Since those subsidies are paid for with state tax dollars, they are generally reserved only for residents of the state, their spouses and dependents.

3. How long do you have to live in a state to qualify for in-state tuition?

Residency requirements vary significantly from state to state and are often written into law by state legislatures. In most cases, a prospective student has to live in the state for at least a year to qualify for lower in-state tuition rates. Some states, like Alaska, require students to establish longer periods of residency, while others, like Arkansas, have less stringent requirements. Our state-by-state college guide pages have more details on residency requirements, check them out by clicking below:

4. Will my residency automatically change after I go to school in a new state for a year?

In most cases, no. Most states require at least one “gap year,” during which the individual is a resident of the state for some reason other than education. Simply living, working, paying taxes and participating in society (getting a library card, registering your car there, etc.) in the adopted state for one year is often enough—but not if it appears the move is an attempt to game the system for cheaper tuition. The Kansas Board of Regents sums up the policies of most states in stating, “Someone who comes to Kansas to go to a state university and who is a full-time student has to overcome a strong presumption that he or she is only here temporarily for the duration of the educational program… Qualifying as a resident for fee purposes requires more than just being present in the state for a year.”

5. Can I live with an out-of-state relative or family friend to qualify for in-state tuition?

Here, too, most states and colleges are on the lookout for students trying to dishonestly claim in-state tuition rates. There are always exceptions, and you’ll likely have the opportunity to try to prove your case, but in most situations, students who appear to have moved in with a relative in an attempt to gain residency are denied.

6. Do international students pay out-of-state tuition?

According to a recent report by Business Insider, international students usually pay more than even out-of-state residents to attend college in America. Also, since American financial institutions don’t generally recognize the credit history of foreign applicants, international students usually pay out of pocket.

7. Are there special considerations for military personnel attending school out-of-state?

Thanks to the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, all veterans and their dependents are entitled to in-state tuition rates at all public colleges and universities in all 50 states. Many schools also honor an out-of-state tuition waiver for active-duty military personnel.

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How to Get In-State Tuition as an Out-of-State Student

For students whose dream schools are in another state, or for those just looking for an education beyond their backyards, programs are available to lessen the financial burden. In some cases, schools will allow students from neighboring states to attend their colleges for less than the cost of out-of-state tuition. Called reciprocity agreements, these programs can dramatically broaden the options available for students looking to get away from home.

  • Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP)

    Who is included

    Residents of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
    What it does

    Coordinated by the Midwest Higher Education Compact, MSEP is a collection of more than 80 schools that agree to charge no more than 150 percent of in-state enrollment costs to qualifying students. Private schools may also participate if they agree to offer a discount of at least 10 percent.
    How to qualify and apply

    Visit msep.mhec.org and input the requested basic information into the Get Started online tool.

  • National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA)

    Who is included

    Residents of every state except California, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    What it does

    States and educational institutions voluntarily join SARA, which develops a state-level reciprocity process that is wider than traditional regional reciprocity agreements. The program is administered jointly by the four regional governing bodies detailed in this section. When states are approved for membership, they can then begin enrolling eligible schools, which can then begin enrolling out-of-state students from across the country at reduced tuition rates.
    How to qualify and apply

    If you live in a SARA state, determine if your desired school participates in the program. Then, visit or contact the school’s SARA liaison officer.

  • New England Regional Student Program (RSP)

    Who is included

    Residents of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
    What it does

    All 82 of New England’s public colleges and universities, along with their 800 collective degree programs, participate in the RSP Tuition Break program. The average participant saves $8,033.
    How to qualify and apply

    Permanent New England residents should start by making sure they meet the desired school’s RSP enrollment requirements, then declare an RSP-approved program as their intended field of study.

  • Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Academic Common Market

    Who is included

    Residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Texas and Florida participate, but only at the graduate level.
    What it does

    The Academic Common Market provides access to more than 1,900 programs, both graduate and undergraduate, to students across the South. Students who are accepted will receive tuition rates reduced below that which is paid by non-SREB students.
    How to qualify and apply

    The program is neither competitive nor merit based, but applicants must live in SREB states. Prospective students must complete an Academic Common Market certification application from their state and confirm that a school in their state does not already offer their program of choice.

  • Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)

    Who is included

    Residents of all 16 Western states, including Alaska, Hawaii and the Dakotas.
    What it does

    Coordinated by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, WUE is the largest program of its kind in America. It opens more than 150 two- and four-year schools to regional students who live within the WUE zone. Qualifying students who are approved will pay 150 percent of the enrolling school’s in-state tuition rate, provided the student is pursuing a long-term degree.
    How to qualify and apply

    Apply directly through your choice of participating WUE schools, each of which develops its own WUE application process and eligibility guidelines.

Other Ways to Get Out-of-State Tuition Discounts

Reciprocity agreements are not the only path to reduced tuition at out-of-state schools. Many offer alumni and military discounts. Excellence in athletics, music, art or other extracurricular activities might qualify some students for special grants or scholarships that eliminate some, or even all tuition costs. Many students rely on financial aid, which can be based on either need or merit, and be provided by the school, a state government or the federal government, the latter of which provides most student aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Here are some other ways to get tuition rates reduced when you’re an out-of-state student.

  • American Opportunity Tax Credit

    Who is included

    Any qualifying student.
    What it does

    The IRS offers a special tax credit to help students cover tuition costs — even for attending an out-of-state school. The credit covers 100 percent of costs up to $2,000 and 25 percent of the next $2,000 for total credits of $2,500. Students can even keep up to $1,000 in refunds if the credit drops their tax bill to zero.
    How to qualify and apply

    Fill out IRS Form 1098-T

  • Cocktail' Scholarships

    Who is included

    Virtually all freshmen accepted to schools that offer these types of grants.
    What it does

    So-called “cocktail scholarships” are merit-based grants that either award comparatively small amounts of money or award money to virtually every freshman accepted to the school. According to Time, these awards got their nickname because they enable parents to brag at cocktail parties about the scholarships their children were offered.
    How to qualify and apply

    Time’s list notes more than 90 schools that offer these types of financial aid. Remember that many offer scholarships for only freshman year, many are so competitive that they’re longshots even for well-qualified applicants, and some have tuition rates that are cost-prohibitive even with partial scholarships.

  • Post-9/11 G.I. Bill

    Who is included

    Active-duty military personnel with at least 90 days aggregate service on or after Sept. 11, 2001, those who were honorably discharged from service during that time and those who were discharged with a service-related disability after more than 30 days.
    What it does

    The bill provides full tuition payments—as well as access to a variety of career, vocational, professional and entrepreneurship programs—along with housing allowances, stipends for books and supplies, and even financial help with attending foreign schools.
    How to qualify and apply

    If you were discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013, there is no time limit to receive the benefits. Those who were discharged before that have 15 years to take advantage of the program. Visit the “Get Started” page of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website to learn how to apply.

  • Federal Pell Grants

    Who is included

    Undergraduate students who haven’t already achieved a professional or bachelor’s degree, and who aren’t incarcerated or otherwise involuntarily committed for a sex offense.
    What it does

    Pell grants are distributed by the federal government based on need and, unlike student loans, don’t ever have to be repaid.
    How to qualify and apply

    Start by filling out a standard FAFSA form.

  • Friendly Neighbor Agreements

    Who is included

    Students in participating states.
    What it does

    Many neighboring states, such New Mexico and Colorado, have mutual agreements that allow students from one state to pay reduced tuition rates at a school in the other. In some cases, out-of-state students receive the fully reduced in-state tuition rates paid by full-time residents in the friendly neighboring state.
    How to qualify and apply

    Contact your desired school’s academic advisement department to find out if such a state-to-state reciprocity agreement exists, or check the state-by-state financial aid programs listing by NASFAA.

  • Yellow Ribbon Program

    Who is included

    Those who meet eligibility requirements for maximum Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits, are not on active duty and are not a military spouse using transferred entitlement. In some cases, the service member’s children are also eligible.
    What it does

    Schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon program pay for tuition fees and costs that exceed the limit of a service member’s Post-9/11 G.I. Bill entitlements. In many cases, this applies to students who exceed their limits by applying to private schools or out-of-state public schools.
    How to qualify and apply

    Start by finding out if your desired institution is among the list of participating Yellow Ribbon schools, then explore that school’s eligibility requirements.

For more information on financial aid and assistance, check out these helpful guidebooks:

How Parents and Guidance Counselors Can Help

Most students need some help of navigating the complicated and often convoluted waters of educational financing. That’s where their parents, teachers and counselors can play a critical role. Here are some tips and resources for helping the students in your life understand their out-of-state tuition options.

  • For parents


    Learn the Basics

    The financial aid process is a constantly shifting, continuously evolving landscape. The U.S. Department of Education maintains an office specifically dedicated to providing the most up-to-date information regarding financial aid procedures and programs.

    2018-19 Federal Student Aid at a Glance

    This resource contains the most critical nuggets of information about current student aid options, procedures, qualifications and tips, and presents them clearly and in plain language.
    Federal Student Aid: Find the Information You Need

    Here you’ll find a list of resources that can guide you through the financial aid process and help you understand what to expect.

    Develop Reasonable Expectations and Goals

    The Federal Financial Aid office maintains a page specifically designed to help parents prepare to help their college-bound children. Parents should use this source to develop realistic expectations moving forward, and to craft plans for success.

    Checklists for Academic and Financial Preparation

    Use this collection of handy checklists to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered in assisting your child with the financial requirements of attending college.
    Understanding College Costs

    This guide offers parents a primer on what’s included in the cost of college, how to lower those costs and how to find schools in your family’s price range.

    Understand How Your Situation Impacts the Applicant

    In order to successfully complete the FAFSA application, students will have to be prepared to answer questions about their parents.

    Parent/Student Worksheet

    This resource examines the information that applicants will be expected to provide about their parents or guardians.
    How Aid is Determined Worksheet

    This resource informs both parents and applicants about how much aid a student can expect to receive depending on, in part, their parents’ situation.

    Learn How to Prepare a Student Facing Special Circumstances

    Some parents assume their children are not eligible to receive aid because of extenuating circumstances like criminal convictions or undocumented status. That’s not always the case, and several resources exist specifically for these special cases.

    Aid for Non-Citizen Students

    Learn how many non-citizen students are still eligible for financial aid.
    Students with Criminal Convictions

    It’s true that legal trouble can preclude an otherwise qualified student from obtaining aid, but not always.
    Students with Intellectual Disabilities

    Find out what kinds of aid are available to students with disabilities and how to pursue them. Some colleges also offer specially designed college programs for students with intellectual disabilities that have a variety of resources.

    Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

    The complex patchwork of rules, regulations and requirements associated with securing financial aid can be confusing and intimidating, even for parents. Several groups provide services—some at a cost—to help parents navigate this terrain.

    In-State Angels

    In-State Angels is an organization dedicated to helping students secure in-state tuition rates for out-of-state schools.
    Campus Consultants Inc.

    Campus Consultants has three decades experience helping students and their families plan and prepare for financing higher education.

  • Current Trends and Information

    Even teachers and counselors who are well-versed in the process and experienced in guiding students need to brush up on the most current trends, guidelines and topics. Organizations like the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators – (NASFAA) offer resources that can help teachers and counselors be the best possible mentors.

    National Training for Counselors and Mentors

    Provided by NASFAA, this resource directs counselors to free resources, tools, information and training.
    2017-18 Counselors and Mentors Handbook on Federal Student Aid

    The government compiles and maintains this resource, which is designed for anyone advising students on the particulars of securing financial aid.
    Poised to Lead

    Counselors and teachers can use this guide to better understand how to walk students through the process of applying for and obtaining financial aid for college.

    Use Multimedia Educational Tools

    Organizations like StudentAid.gov provide teachers and counselors with resources and instructional aids in a variety of formats. Information is often easier for students to digest when it’s delivered in a graphic presentation or video format.

    Financial Aid Process Video

    This video lets students know what to expect while applying for financial aid.
    Types of Federal Student Aid Video

    Another video resource that helps make students aware of their options when pursuing financial aid.

    Prepare for Questions from Non-Traditional Students

    Guidance counselors should be ready to serve students who have specialty cases, such as those in military exemptions and those who are encountering issues with attending foreign schools.

    Military Service Aid Worksheet

    Here you’ll find information specific to securing aid for military members, their dependents and spouses.
    International Student Worksheet

    This resource is filled with facts and contacts necessary for students, both graduate and undergraduate, who are pursuing an education overseas.

    Understand the Needs of Low-Income Students

    Low-income students might need extra help seeking and securing financing for college. The good news is, they also have programs at their disposal designed just for them. Teachers and counselors should put themselves in the best position possible to serve these high-need students.

    Form Your Future

    This organization exists specifically to help students from less-affluent families secure financial aid.
    Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

    Like Pell grants, FSEOG grants serve undergraduate students with “exceptional financial needs”.

    Get State-Specific

    Rules, regulations, options and programs often vary wildly state by state. As a teacher or counselor, it’s your job to focus on the offerings and organizations available specifically in the state where your students live and study.

    State Financial Aid Programs

    Here you’ll find information on state-specific grants, scholarships and financial aid programs.
    State and Regional College Tuition Discounts

    This resource provides information on securing reduced tuition rates for out-of-state schools through regional or state-to-state agreements.

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