If she wanted to save money on tuition, Erin Patterson had to make some money quickly. As an out-of-state student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Patterson needed to earn a certain amount on her W-2 in order to claim residency and thus lower her tuition bill.
“I had no intention of becoming a resident of Missouri when I started college, but my dad called me one day in March of my freshman year and asked if I could handle living in Columbia for the summer to get residency,” says Patterson, a senior from Lisle, Ill.
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But the stress saved Patterson big money. Becoming a resident of the Show-Me State meant her tuition dropped by about $8,000 a year. “I don’t think we could have afforded another year of out-of-state tuition, especially because one of my younger sisters has just started college,” she says.
Many students like Patterson jump state borders to attend top programs or dream schools. And some public universities bank on out-of-staters, charging an average “surcharge” of about $9,947, reports the . Because schools depend on the extra cash, residency requirements for tuition discounts can be complex.
Iowa’s requirements may discourage students from claiming residency. Moving to Iowa to attend college doesn’t qualify a student for residency. Instead, a student must live 12 straight months in the state and take six credit hours or less. Students also have to meet certain requirements before they enroll. But some students don’t always understand the process. “There are a lot of rumors out there,” says Judy Minnick, assistant registrar at Iowa State University.
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The rules are strict, and Minnick says most out-of-state students aren’t interested in trying to claim residency.
If residency in Iowa might seem exclusionary, Minnick reasons that nonresidents don’t pay state taxes or “support the state of Iowa,” which means nonresidents face a tuition surcharge of almost $10,000 each year. “We look to those students for their nonresident tuition to supplement and support us. It’s a big chunk,” says Minnick.
Students hoping to become Wisconsin residents cannot attend classes for one year while living and working in the state. Resident hopefuls also must file a tax return in the state, have a Wisconsin driver’s license and register to vote there.
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Wisconsin reserves in-state tuition only for “bona fide residents” who didn’t move to the state for educational purposes. But students from Minnesota are eligible for a tuition reciprocity program. The two states have an agreement that allows students to attend college in the other state but pay their home state’s in-state tuition.
Minnesota resident Carly Brown is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and pays tuition as if she attended the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Brown says the reciprocity program “helps tremendously.”
“If I were to pay out-of-state tuition, I am not positive if my financial situation would have allowed me to attend this university,” says Brown, an engineering major.
Besides earning enough money, Patterson also had to prove she lived in the state for a year to gain minimum residency.
The school’s policy was “pretty straight forward,” but Patterson was surprised when her university-provided scholarship was reduced after she earned residency. “We were still saving money, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, just disappointing,” she says.
Patterson says figuring out your paperwork well before it’s due can help students avoid complications. Check on the work requirements to also limit stress. “Making enough money is the only thing that stressed me out in the process,” she says.
Each state has its own residency-claiming policies. Minnick recommends consulting the registrar’s office for the most accurate information.
Many schools post the residency requirements online, but the rules can be technical and hard to understand. “I would advise they check with the people in charge of making the decisions,” says Minnick.
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Michigan State University:
Ohio State University, Columbus campus:
University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
University of Texas at Austin:
University of Rhode Island:
University of Connecticut:
SUNY (State University of New York):
Bucks County Community College (Penn.):
Mansfield University (Penn.):
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:
Fayetteville State University (N.C.):
Louisiana State University:
Florida State University:
*All prices are estimates. Information latest available from school sites. Prices may include tuition and required fees.
Article reprinted with permission from Next Step Magazine.