How to Get In-State Tuition as an Out-of-State Student: Ways to Reduce College Expenses

How to Get In-State Tuition as an Out-of-State Student: Ways to Reduce College Expenses
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Securing a college education can be expensive. Between 2008 and 2018, the average tuition at public four-year colleges increased by at least 37% in all 50 states (Hess, 2019). This can be especially concerning to students whose target university is based in another state. Out-of-state students pay more than twice as much as in-state students, thus, it would be very helpful to identify ways on how to get in-state tuition as an out-of-state student.

In fall 2018, California recorded the largest number of residents leaving the state to attend college in another state, also known as student out-migration to college, at 44,800. New York, on the other hand, recorded 43,300 in-migrating freshmen (IPEDS, 2020). There are a variety of reasons why students choose to study college in another state. However, due to the costs associated with it, many are looking to find ways to avail of in-state tuition rates.

Provided in this guide are possible ways for out-of-state students to avail themselves of in-state tuition rates in public institutions. Other routes to avail of in-state tuition are also suggested, which include looking for scholarships and other forms of tuition break.

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

  1. In-State Tuition vs Out-of-State Tuition
  2. Why is in-state tuition cheaper?
  3. Ways to Get In-State Tuition as an Out of State Student

In-State Tuition vs Out-of-State Tuition

In public universities, students that live within the state where the school is hosted are considered in-state students. They typically pay a different tuition rate, which is lower, compared to students from out-of-state. The rationale behind this is that residents, or those that are in-state, are paying taxes and are therefore contributing to the public universities in the area. Those who are from out-of-state are charged a higher rate as they are not contributing to the state’s income stream.

Based on data from The College Board for the academic year 2021-2022, the average combined tuition and fees for in-state public four-year institutions is $10,740 while the rate for out-of-state is $27,560. The $16,820 difference is a significant amount that can be allotted to room and board, which costs roughly $11,950 for both in-state and out-of-state students. This is the primary reason why out-of-state students try to find ways to avail themselves of in-state tuition rates.

While having separate tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students has long been practiced in public institutions, this residency-based tuition differential is sometimes viewed as a flawed policy. In “The Right to Residency: Mobility, Tuition, and Public Higher Education Access,” Walsh (2021) argued that it contradicts the right to free movement.

Published in the History of Education Quarterly, Walsh contends that “Higher education—particularly publicly funded higher education since the mid-nineteenth century—has served as the epitome of economic mobility and the sinequa non of meritocracy in the mythology of the United States. Yet students are often funneled or locked into institutions of varying resource levels, curricular breadth or specialization, and capacities not because of merit, future interests, or capability. Their educational choices are determined in part by a narrow definition of residence—an accident of birth—as well as cost. These foundational exclusions are built into the seemingly neutral historical systems of financial aid, state taxation, and public funding.”

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Why is in-state tuition cheaper?

The U.S. education system is controlled by individual states and not the federal government. Each state provides funds to its own public institutions, which include public colleges and universities. The funding comes from the state’s residents, which are collected in the form of taxes. As a result, since the residents are contributing to the state’s expenses, they are charged with lower rates in their own public institutions, while out-of-state students are charged higher rates.

Can a non-resident student qualify for in-state tuition?

Your presence in the state where your preferred school is based does not automatically make you eligible for the in-state tuition rate. States are very strict in qualifying who gets to avail of the in-state tuition rate. The policies of each state are not the same, and some are more strict than others. For instance, some public universities require residency of at least one year with a parent that is also employed within the state. If the student is not dependent on parents or guardians, there should be proof of financial independence.

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

As students search for the most economical way to obtain a college education, they look for ways to qualify for tuition breaks and other types of scholarships. In addition, some students try out ways to get in-state tuition even if their chosen school is not within their state. Some of these methods are outlined below.

1. Become a Resident

Becoming a resident in a particular place could simply involve moving in, but in the case of getting residency to avail of in-state tuition, it is not that simple. While being a resident of a state qualifies you for in-state tuition, this would not hold water if you are not financially independent, if you have not lived in the state for at least a year, and if you cannot prove that you intend to stay. Oklahoma State University provides a comprehensive discussion on who qualifies as an in-state student.

Your intention to stay may be backed up by having a driver’s license, registering to vote, paying state taxes, or putting your name on a lease. For dependent students, at least one parent should be a resident of the state and should be paying taxes. While most universities differ in requirements, the basic requirements of residency apply to most students.

2. Scholarships that Award In-State Tuition

Most public institutions offer scholarships to attract high-caliber non-resident students. These scholarships can be in the form of non-resident tuition waivers, non-resident academic scholarships, non-resident tuition scholarships, and merit-based tuition waivers.

Most out-of-state scholarships are merit-based and are offered to first-time, full-time degree-seeking freshmen, but transfer and readmitted students may also be considered by some public institutions. Examples of out-of-state scholarships include the Black and Gold Scholarship of the University of Missouri, which offers a full waiver of non-resident tuition, the Arizona Tuition Awards of the University of Arizona, which grants as much as $35,000 for tuition per academic year, and the DC Tuition Assistance Grant in Washington D.C., which provides scholarships to residents by paying the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

On average, out-of-state tuition and fees are 2.3 times higher than the in-state rate. Non-resident tuition exemptions or tuition waivers may also be availed by out-of-state students. As GPA is a major requirement for availing tuition waivers, this is used by public university systems as a way to attract exceptional out-of-state students. Some of these institutions are in Florida, Georgia, and Texas, with their governing boards determining the conditions for the waiver. For instance, the Georgia Board of Regents decides the particular amount of waivers that each campus will receive, with each campus deciding on the set of criteria for determining who will qualify for the tuition waiver.

Other universities also offer merit-based awards to out-of-state students in the form of presidential scholarships, which can reduce tuition and fee costs to even lower than the advertised in-state level. Merit-based awards are scholarships that are typically given to students that belong to the top five to 10% of their batch.

The Tuition Exchange is a reciprocal scholarship program that caters to the families or dependents of faculty and staff of over 600 participating institutions. This reciprocal scholarship program aims to make working in colleges and universities more attractive by offering faculty and staff dependents scholarships that cover tuition and other college fees.

Source: The College Board

3. Special Reciprocity Arrangements Between States

Regional Consortium

Also known as the tuition reciprocity program between states, the regional consortium allows qualified students from one state to attend certain colleges in nearby states. In the U.S., there are regional reciprocity agreements among western, southern, midwestern, and northeastern states. Each state and institution may impose additional acceptance requirements, and may also choose to limit awards, or withdraw entirely from the reciprocity agreement program.

Regional Student Program

The Regional Student Program (RSP) is the regional consortium for northeastern states and is under the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE). This regional group includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The RSP allows residents of the member states to attend participating out-of-state public universities at a reduced rate of tuition. On average, the full-time RSP student can get a $7,000 in tuition break annually. The student must enroll in a major that is not available in the home state and is approved by the RSP. Another requirement is for the student to be geographically closer to the out-of-state college than the in-state one.

It is important to note, however, that programs in high demand may not be approved under the RSP. In this case, students that opt to start with an RSP-approved major and then change their major later on may be charged full out-of-state tuition.

Western Undergraduate Exchange

The Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) is the regional consortium for the western states that is under the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). This regional group includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

The WUE may allow students from the mentioned states to pay 150% of in-state tuition provided that the student remains a resident of the home state. The tuition breaks however are very limited as participating colleges limit the number of recipients. Also, there are only a specific set of majors that can be taken under the WUE, and students must submit separate applications for each university.

Midwest Student Exchange Program

For the midwest region, the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) is the consortium under the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC). The member states are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

The MSEP caps the tuition and fee rates at 150% of the rate paid by in-state residents, while a 10% reduction on tuition rates is offered by private institutions. While savings are not the same across the board, MSEP reports that the average tuition savings range from $500 to $5,000 per year. MSEP requires students to file a new application at the start of each academic year. The student must also remain out-of-state to maintain eligibility.

Academic Common Market

The regional consortium for southern states is the Academic Common Market (ACM) which is under the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). Member states include Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Texas, Florida, and North Carolina are also members but only offer tuition breaks for graduate programs.

As with other regions, there are requirements that need to be fulfilled by the student to qualify for the ACM tuition break. The chosen degree should not be available among the home state colleges, and the student should remain a resident of the home state.

Reciprocity Agreements Between States

Some states have reciprocity agreements that are independent of the regional consortiums. These states that offer in-state tuition for out-of-state students typically have less stringent requirements. The major ones include the reciprocity agreements between Missouri-Kansas, Wisconsin-Minnesota, New Mexico-Colorado, and Ohio-West Virginia. Some public institutions also waive out-of-state tuition for residents of border counties. Colleges that waive out-of-state tuition often belong to the states that have entered into these reciprocity agreements. There are also institutions that offer the same tuition rate for in-state and out-of-state students. These colleges usually have an online presence, and extend the same rate for all students, notwithstanding their residency status.

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4. Regional Exchange Programs

Regional exchange programs are smaller consortiums that aim to provide tuition breaks for out-of-state students. There are organizations that facilitate regional exchange programs for specific groups, such as those that cater to international students and those that serve the dependents of university faculty and employees.

The Consortium of Universities in the Washington Metropolitan Area

This tax-exempt, non-profit group is composed of 12 public and private universities from the Capital area. This small organization of schools allows students to take courses and earn credits at any of the member schools. The tuition rate is based on the student’s home institution.

Included in this group are the American University, Catholic University, Gallaudet University, Georgetown University, George Mason University, George Washington University, Howard University, Marymount University, Southeastern University, Trinity College, the University of the District of Columbia, and the University of Maryland at College Park.

National Student Exchange

The National Student Exchange (NSE) is another example of a group that facilitates regional exchange programs. This organization of 174 colleges and universities from the U.S., Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands is specifically designed for visiting students. NSE offers tuition reciprocal exchange opportunities, and agreements are made between schools, and not between states or programs. Qualified NSE students pay tuition either to the host campus as a resident student, or pay the regular tuition rate to the home campus.

For the NSE, each member institution has its own guidelines for student eligibility. In general, students need to be in good standing to be qualified for the program. The student should have completed one term of full-time attendance and one academic year at an NSE member campus prior to application. Typically, there are available NSE coordinators in schools that students may approach for information on the application, placement process, and deadlines.

5. Legacy Scholarships

Among families, it is very typical of parents to suggest that you also get your degree from their alma mater. While you might prefer taking a different path, you may consider the fact that most universities provide scholarships to students directly related to alumni.

Legacy scholarships are extended to students that have at least one direct lineage with a graduate of a particular college or university. However, schools have a required GPA for awarding legacy scholarships and there is no fixed award amount as each school determines the scholarship grant package each year. Legacy scholarships are renewable, and the student must be enrolled full-time.

Source: USA Today

You Can Get In-State Tuition as an Out-of-State Student

With continually rising college tuition, getting a postsecondary degree requires careful planning as it could cost you a fortune. This guide has identified ways on how to get in-state tuition as an out-of-state student, which include availing oneself of the tuition breaks and scholarships awarded by regional consortiums, regional exchange programs, legacy scholarships, and other out-of-state scholarships extended to non-residents.

As college debt has become a major hurdle, it pays to be informed of ways to go around certain obstacles. Do not give up on your dream of earning a degree because with hard work and perseverance, you can definitely avail yourself of tuition breaks and scholarships that can help you get a college education.



  1. Academic Common Market (2021),
  2. Hess, A. J. (2019), The cost of college increased by more than 25% in the last 10 years—here’s why,
  3. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (2020), Fall Enrollment Survey,
  4. Midwest Student Exchange Program (2021),
  5. National Student Exchange (2021),
  6. Regional Student Program (2021),
  7. Tuition Exchange (2021),
  8. Walsh, C. (2021), The Right to Residency: Mobility, Tuition, and Public Higher Education Access, History of Education Quarterly,
  9. Western Undergraduate Exchange (2021),


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