8 Tuition Savers for Out-of-State Students

One of the biggest hurdles associated with attending college out of state is a financial one: many schools charge out-of-state students tuition rates totaling roughly 2.5 to 3.5 times the rate charged to their in-state classmates.

I know it may not seem fair. But one of the realities of higher education today — at least among public colleges and universities — is that these schools are getting less money from state and federal sources, especially in places like California, Texas, Florida and New Jersey.

As a result, campuses in these states and elsewhere are increasingly looking to out-of-state students, along with international students, to make up the difference.

The College Board reports that in the 2014-2015 school term, out-of-state students attending public schools nationwide were charged an average of $22,958 in tuition, or nearly $14,000 more than the $9,193 in tuition charged to in-state residents.

The numbers can seem daunting. But don’t despair if you’re set on attending or are already enrolled at an out-of-state college or university.

In my book, College Secrets, I reveal 24 strategies you can use to eliminate or reduce tuition expenses, whether you’re a resident or an out-of-state student.

Here are eight ways to lower tuition costs when you’re an out-of-state student:

  1. Use a regional student exchange program
  2. Ask for a border waiver
  3. Get a non-resident tuition waiver
  4. Consider moving
  5. Go to a flat-tuition school
  6. Get institutional scholarships
  7. Use your public service benefits
  8. Get tuition waivers for special circumstances

In this article, I’ll discuss the first strategy, regional exchange programs. In future articles, I’ll share more details on the other strategies as well.

Using a Regional Student Exchange Program

About one out of five freshmen attending public four-year colleges and universities study out of state, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Fortunately, many states have reciprocity agreements with neighboring states that allow students to pay less than the published tuition prices for non-residents.

These reciprocity agreements are also known as regional student exchange programs.

In order to advance higher education, some states share educational resources with one another and their residents. They do this by joining an interstate coalition (known as a “compact”) and then facilitating regional student exchange programs.

Although each interstate compact has its own nuances, in general, member states allow residents of nearby states to get specified tuition discounts. A student must usually also study a major that is not available in his or her own home state.

So the state of Florida, for instance, might allow Georgia residents to attend the University of Florida for the same tuition price charged to Florida locals. That would amount to many thousands in savings annually.

Other states let out-of-towners pay no more than 1.5 or 1.75 times the rate that residents pay.

In addition to the obvious money-saving benefits, regional exchange programs boast a lot of other good features. One advantage: you don’t have to meet any specific income or financial aid requirements to get the tuition discounts afforded by regional exchange programs.

Here are seven large regional student-exchange programs that let you get in-state tuition, or greatly reduced tuition, even if you reside out of state. These tuition breaks are offered primarily at public schools, but also at private institutions where noted.

New England Region

The New England Regional Student Program (RSP) is open to residents of six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Public colleges and universities in these states agree that non-residents from the region will not pay more than 1.75 times a school’s in-state tuition rate. Eligible students must study a major not available in their home state. Under this program, participating New England students save roughly $7,000 a year in tuition. More than 750 associate, bachelor’s and graduate degree programs are offered and the initiative, dubbed “RSP Tuition Break,” is available at all 82 of New England’s public colleges and universities.

The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) governs the six member states of the New England Regional Student Program. NEBHE’s website has a “find a program” section and state-specific brochures detailing the exact programs of study available at each institution.

Midwestern Region

The Midwest Student Exchange is open to students in nine states: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

More than 100 colleges and universities participate in this exchange program. These schools agree that non-residents from the region will not pay more than 1.5 times the in-state resident tuition rate for specific programs. Participating students can save up to $5,000 annually. Private colleges and universities also offer a 10% tuition discount.

The Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) governs the Midwest Student Exchange. Although 12 Midwestern states belong to this compact, the Midwest Student Exchange program is voluntary, and only nine states participate. Currently, residents of Iowa, Ohio and South Dakota aren’t eligible to take part in the exchange.

Since participating states and programs can change, however, make sure you visit the website for the latest details on each program.

Western Region


The Western Undergraduate Exchange is open to students in 15 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The exchange is also open to students in six other regions: the three U.S. Pacific Territories (American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam); and the three Freely Associated States, (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau). Collectively, these territories are deemed as the 16th member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange.

Under this program, out-of-state students pay tuition that is capped at 1.5 times resident tuition. More than 150 public two-year and four-year institutions in the region participate. Savings vary per campus, but average about $7,500 per student. Since the number of eligible students is limited to about 36,000 individuals each year, it’s best to apply as early as possible.

The Western Regional Graduate Program is another exchange for graduate students in the 16 aforementioned Western states and territories. There are 56 participating universities offering roughly 320 graduate programs to non-resident students at in-state tuition rates. In 2013-2014, the average student pursuing a master’s degree, graduate certificate or a PhD saved about $14,000 through this program.

The Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP) is a discounted tuition program to students enrolled in 10 specific healthcare programs in 12 member states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming. This exchange program is not currently available to students in three Western states: California, Oregon, and South Dakota.

PSEP covers professional degrees in dentistry, allopathic medicine, osteopathic medicine, physician assistant, physical therapy, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine.

Under this exchange program, out-of-state students attending public institutions pay in-state tuition rates or reduced tuition. Those attending private schools also get tuition breaks. Moreover, PSEP students can receive “support payments” to help cover their tuition. These support payments are paid directly to a student’s school. Funds vary by professional area of study, but the 2014-2015 support fee rate ranged from $7,400 to $31,500.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) governs the Western Undergraduate Exchange, the Western Regional Graduate Program, as well as the Professional Student Exchange Program.

In the 2013-2014 school year, WICHE’s three exchange programs saved more than 35,600 undergraduate, graduate and professional students $265 million in tuition.

Southern Region

The Academic Common Market is open to students in 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Under this exchange program, individuals studying in specialized fields at out-of-state colleges pay in-state tuition rates — provided they pursue degrees in areas not offered by their home state’s institutions. More than 100 colleges and universities participate in the Academic Common Market and more than 1,900 undergraduate and graduate degree programs are available.

The Regional Contract Program, which aids graduate students in the healthcare area, is open to residents in eight Southern states: Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Residents of the other eight Southern states — Alabama, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia — are not currently eligible to participate in the Regional Contract Program.

Under this program, students seeking professional health degrees at out-of-state institutions pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, or reduced tuition at private institutions.

The South Regional Education Board is responsible for the Academic Common Market and the Regional Contract Program.

Apply In Advance

Since policies governing regional exchange programs vary from state to state, and from school to school, it’s best to ask your college or university for its specific requirements and deadlines.

Also, to take full advantage of a tuition reciprocity agreement, be prepared to apply for your tuition break well in advance of when you’ll need it; application processing times can sometimes run several months.

Unfortunately, three states in the U.S. — New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — do not belong to any regional compact. So students in those states can’t participate in one of these regional exchanges.

One other state, North Dakota, belongs to more than one compact. Residents in this state have a wider array of options in selecting out-of-state schools and still getting in-state or reduced tuition.

Finally, if you’re interested in online or distance learning, many regional exchanges offer tuition reductions and support through those educational options as well.

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