Going to College Out-of-State without Paying Out-of-State Tuition


A lot of students and parents see the value in going to school away from home.  It might be to experience something different in life or to gain more independence.  For instance, someone born and raised in Phoenix might want to go away to school, even though Arizona State University is right in their backyard, and the University of Arizona is only about an hour and a half away.  Sometimes a program you are interested in may not be available in your home state at all.  Someone who grows up in Alaska and wants to major in Audiology has exactly zero colleges to choose from with this program in their home state.  Or maybe they are just done with living in Alaska and would rather go to a school in a state where they seem themselves living long term.  Being able to go to college out-of-state gives someone so many more options not just in terms of majors, but different locations, climates, student populations, school sizes, class sizes, work opportunities, recreational opportunities, etc.

Going to school out-of-state may sound great, but the problem is paying for it.  The tuition gap for in-state vs. out-of-state students can be very large, sometimes 3x or more.  Here are a few examples:

In-State TuitionOut-of-State Tuition
University of Hawaii - Manoa$11,088$33,120
University of Alabama$10,780$29,230
Colorado State University$12,058$30,780

Don’t despair.  There are ways to go to college out-of-state without paying out-of-state tuition.  Let’s say you are from California, you want to work your way through school at a ski resort and have identified Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff as a school that is just 15 minutes from Snowbowl and a great place for you to attend.  Out-of-state tuition is $23,820, compared to $10,038 for in-state.  Because you are from a Western state (California) that participates in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), a reduced tuition is available to you of just $15,585.  Schools that participate in the WUE never charge more than 1.5x the in-state tuition rate.  The average savings is almost $10,000 per year.  Remember how expensive Hawaii out-of-state tuition was ($33,120)?  The tuition through the WICHE program is just $16,632.

To participate, you have to live in one of 16 Western states, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands.  Also, some schools have a Fall deadline to apply to participate and some schools limit the majors that are eligible.  Not every public school in that state has to participate.  Schools that are in extremely high demand like UCLA, University of California-Berkeley, UC-San Diego, UC-Santa Barbara, San Diego State, and University of Colorado at Boulder do not participate.  In fact, the only University of California system school that does participate is UC-Merced.  However, scores of other popular schools do belong to WUE, including Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado State, all 4 campuses of the University of Hawaii, Boise State, Montana, Montana State, UNLV, Nevada-Reno, New Mexico, North Dakota State, Utah, Washington State, Wyoming, and many others.

Undergraduate exchange discounts are not limited to the Western region.  Other regions have similar programs, including the Midwest Student Exchange, the New England Regional Student Program, and the Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market.  Some schools in these programs are very picky about what programs are eligible.  For instance, a Georgia resident searching for undergraduate programs at the University of Alabama would only find a discount for the Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Musical Theatre program.  Use the search feature at their website to find out if a particular school or major is eligible.

Even if a regional exchange program does not exist for your home state or the public college or university you want to attend, it sometimes pays to read the fine print.  Schools sometimes define what a resident or a non-resident is differently.  For instance, at UNLV, you might be able to re-classify yourself from being a non-resident to a resident if you have started a business in the new state, bought a house, maintained a checking account in that state, and/or taken several other steps to indicate your clear and convincing intent to become a resident of that state.

Some schools such as Utah State or Missouri allow legacy non-resident waivers, which allow children of alumni from out-of-state to receive in-state rates, or almost in-state rates.  Finally, some states or individual colleges have their own reciprocity agreements.  A few different colleges in Colorado such as Adams State, Colorado Mesa, and CSU-Pueblo charge New Mexico residents in-state rates through a reciprocity agreement.  UNLV has another program called the Good Neighbor program which offers in-state tuition to students from counties in California and Arizona that border Nevada, such as Mohave, El Dorado, and San Bernardino.

The bottom line is don’t just assume you do not have out-of-state options when selecting what college to attend.  There are a lot of different ways to get out-of-state tuition reduced.  For some living in expensive states like California, going to school out-of-state might even end up costing less than staying in-state.


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