Tuition Reciprocity Programs to Make College Affordable

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Updated on Tuesday, June 7, 2016

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Candace Ramirez has student loan debt, but it’s thousands of dollars below the national average. That’s because she took advantage of a tuition reciprocity program offered by Western Kentucky University, in which she paid in-state tuition even though she was an out-of-state student from a nearby county in Tennessee. To give you an idea of the savings this creates, the tuition and fees at WKU for the 2015-16 year were $4,741 for in-state residents—and $12,066 for non-residents. “It was a big financial help,” says Ramirez, 24, who now lives in Seattle. “Those tuition programs are a lifesaver.”

The difference in cost between attending an in-state school and an out-of-state school can be staggering. The most recently published average tuition and fees for a public four-year in-state school were $9,410, according to the College Board. For a public four-year out-of-state student, average tuition and fees were $23,893. That’s a difference of more than $57,000 over four years, especially considering that rates generally rise each year.

But if you live in a state without many good in-state options for you, or without schools that offer the degree you’re interested in pursuing, what else are you going to do? As it turns out, in many states you can take advantage of reciprocity agreements with other regions or states that enable you to pay in-state rates—or reduced out-of-state rates—to attend an out-of-state school. You may be able to qualify for this rate for all four years of school, saving you a substantial amount of money.

Here are some of the arrangements that exist, depending on where you live:

The program: Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)

What it is: Residents of member states of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) can apply to receive a reduced tuition rate no higher than 150% of resident tuition at participating out-of-state college programs.

What savings might look like: An out-of-state resident attending the University of Arizona, for instance, would pay $28,416, versus $9,952 for resident tuition. The WUE rate would be $14,928 (150% of the resident rate), saving that student $13,488 per year.

Participating states: 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 program: Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP)

What it is: States that participate in the MSEP agree to a multi-state tuition reciprocity arrangement in which they charge out-of-state students no more than 150% of the in-state resident tuition rate for certain programs. As part of the MSEP, private institutions will reduce rates by 10%.

What savings might look like: The program estimates that students will generally see savings of $500 to $5,000 per year, depending on the institution.

Participating states: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin. You must be a legal resident of one of those nine states and enrolled at a participating MSEP school as a non-resident student.

The program: Academic Common Market

What it is: This is a program run by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) in which students can get an out-of-state degree at in-state rates at various colleges and universities. Applicants can search the database by state and type of program to see if an agreement exists.

What savings might look like: For instance, a resident of Maryland may be able to pay in-state rates to get a Bachelor’s in biomedical engineering at West Virginia University. At WVU, tuition and fees for a West Virginia resident are $3,816, compared to $10,716 for a non-resident.

Participating states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Each school has an ACM program coordinator who can help students get more information.

The program: New England Regional Student Program (RSP)

What it is: The New England Board of Higher Education runs this program that offers a discount on out-of-state tuition to New England students who aren’t able to study their desired major at a public college or university in their home state.

What savings might look like: Full-time students saw annual tuition savings of $7,515, on average, according to the program, but you could save more, depending on the school you attend. At the University of Connecticut and University of Maine, out-of-state students could shave more than $13,000 per year off of their bills.

Participating states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Some states or schools also have their own individual arrangements with neighboring states, such as the University of Minnesota, which offers lower tuition rates to out-of-state residents of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and the province of Manitoba, Canada. Call your school’s financial aid office and ask about reciprocity agreements.

Keep in mind: The number of these awards may be limited by institution each academic year, so apply early for consideration.

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