How to reduce out-of-state tuition costs

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If you can’t get into your in-state dream school, that’s OK. An equally, perhaps even more prestigious, school beyond your home state’s borders may look upon your application a bit more kindly — and possibly without the hefty out-of-state costs. As public colleges struggle with state budget cuts, an increasing number are actively recruiting out-of-state students to help fill in the fiscal gaps. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of out-of-state tuition for the 2011-2012 school year was $17,785. That’s more than twice the cost of in-state tuition and fees, according to College Board. Fortunately, there are ways to kick out-of-state fees to the curb. Here’s how to reduce or eliminate out-of-state tuition costs.

Seek waivers

Debbie Green, associate director of scholarships at Idaho State University, says that many schools have scholarships and tuition waivers to convince top-performing students to cross state borders. Idaho State, for example, offers nonresident tuition waivers, but the waivers are typically reserved for students with unweighted GPAs of 3.75 or above.

“For state institutions, I believe the nonresident tuition waiver is heavily used,” she says. “Everyone can use them a little bit differently, so they may provide a full waiver to a student (or) partial waivers. It varies. Every state has (its) own regulations.”

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Idaho, for example, only issues waivers if the out-of-state applicant is entering a degree program where there isn’t a wait list packed with in-state students. But some schools use waivers to recruit students into certain majors. East Tennessee State University, for instance, has a special scholarship program for out-of-state students in public performance majors such as theater, broadcasting, and art and design, while the University of Mississippi offers nonresident scholarships to students in science, technology, engineering or math majors. To find out if your school offers out-of-state waivers, contact the financial aid office.

Find a reciprocal agreement

Academic reciprocation agreements are contracts between states that allow students in member states to attend school in another member state for a reduced price. Three of the four major reciprocation programs — the Midwest Higher Education Compact, the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the New England Board of Higher Education’s Tuition Break program — offer qualified out-of-state students discounted tuition rates that are based on a percentage of the in-state rate. The Academic Common Market, an agreement between 15 southern states, waives the out-of-state fee entirely, but only students majoring in a subject that isn’t offered in public colleges in their home state are eligible.

“Somebody who wanted an accounting degree, they could probably find that in their home state,” says Mary Larson, associate director of student access programs for the Southern Region Education Board, the organization that operates the Academic Common Market. “If they wanted a forensic accounting degree, they may or may not have that narrowly defined degree in their home state.”

Eligibility requirements vary from agreement to agreement and from school to school. Some schools limit reciprocation students to certain majors or a certain GPA. Spots may be limited, so those wanting to apply need to do so early.

Investigate border states

If your school of choice is just over the border, you may still qualify for in-state tuition, says Kimberley Buster-Williams, acting associate vice president for enrollment management and director of admissions for Northern Illinois University. Schools frequently offer out-of-state tuition waivers or scholarships to students in border counties or who live within a certain distance from the institution. Just give yourself plenty of time to apply.

“Apply early,” says Buster-Williams. “Don’t wait until last minute because you may not have as much available if you wait too long.”

Even if you don’t qualify for border benefits, you could score some by moving. Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., for example, only requires that their border-waiver recipients provide proof that they have lived in a qualified Oregon county for 90 days before their college term.

Become a local

It’s possible to score in-state tuition by becoming a resident, but requirements vary from state to state. While married students, veterans, independent students, emancipated minors and those older than age 24 can oftentimes gain residency by moving to that state for a year or two before college begins, dependent students typically can only qualify for in-state tuition if they have a parent or guardian who has lived in that state for at least a year.

There are exceptions, though. North Dakota and Montana allow students ages 18 and over to establish residency by living in the state for one year and taking active steps to prove that they’re going to be there for a while, such as registering to vote in state, changing their driver’s license and filing tax returns in that state. Certain institutions in Kansas allow families to apply for in-state residency after just six months. Check out the College Board’s comprehensive list to find out each state’s requirements.

Look for loopholes

Some schools offer out-of-state waivers for seemingly arbitrary reasons. The University of Alaska Fairbanks eliminates out-of-state costs for those who enroll in the state’s 529 college savings plan and for those students enrolled in four credits or less per semester.

Mississippi State University knocks off half of the out-of-state costs for sons and daughters of alumni who maintain a 3.0 GPA, and Jackson State University, also in Mississippi, provides a full waiver to children of nonresident alumni who have given to the school’s development foundation for five consecutive years or more.

For online students, The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing does not charge out-of-state tuition for students taking online classes and Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn., offers a discounted rate for those choosing to take online classes.

Green recommends that students contact their school’s financial aid office to find out about what out-of-state cost-reducers their school offers and to apply on time.

“Understand the deadlines. That’s the biggest thing,” she says. “Every single year we have parents or students call us up and it’s heartbreaking for us to say, ‘You didn’t make the deadline.'”