After New Hampshire resident Rebecca Boduch whittled down her list of potential colleges, two schools remained in the running: Northeastern University, a private school where, with the help of a promised scholarship, her tuition would be equivalent to the price of the University of Rhode Island, her second option.
But when she found out the latter institution would knock her tuition down about $10,000 a year because she hailed from a state in the same region and wanted to major in biomedical engineering, her decision was easier, she says.
“Money played a big factor into it: how many loans I would have to take and how much stress was put on my parents,” Boduch says. “Because I got the tuition break, I ended up going to Rhode Island.”
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Boduch, like thousands of New England residents each year, was awarded a tuition break through the New England Regional Student Program (RSP), a financial aid program that reduces out-of-state tuition for qualifying students who attend school in the region.
Students in nearly every state may qualify for programs like RSP, though the tuition breaks aren’t always well known and often require a student or parent to be proactive in applying for the reduction. The country is divided into four compacts, or groups that collectively encompass all states but New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. Each of the four regions have tuition reduction programs that colleges and universities can offer to their students, though the benefits vary by region, state, and school. Some areas and institutions have more stringent guidelines regarding a student’s major choice; others have academic requirements or tight capacity limits; and a few states only offer the reductions to graduate students.
Differences aside, each program can help alleviate the financial burden placed on enrolled students and parents, and most don’t require a family to demonstrate financial need to be eligible. For participating schools and states, it’s a means to attract more students and increase the chances of those educated individuals staying in the region after graduation.
"Life happens in college—you meet people and get married or whatever," says Margo Colalancia, director of the Western Student Exchange program. "If they study in the West, they're more likely to settle in the West and provide workforce resources to the region."
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Use the list below as a starting point in finding out what tuition break you or your child may qualify for, based on your region of residence. Each program's site offers more information about participating schools, qualifying majors, and application procedures. (Note: This is not an exhaustive list of residency reductions. Because some tuition breaks are even more localized, it's best to consult a high school or college adviser about more programs for which you may qualify.)
For students in New England: New England Regional Student Program
Eligible states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
Average savings: $7,000/year
Every public college and university in New England is eligible to offer a tuition rate of no more than 175 percent of the in-state rate to regional residents, provided the student is enrolled in a degree program not available at public schools in his or her home state, says Wendy Lindsay, program director. New Hampshire resident Boduch, for example, qualified for the reduction since she planned to study biomedical engineering, a program no public school in her home state offered.
Given the degree restriction, students must have a major in mind when considering the tuition reduction. "It does tend to be more for a student who has a better idea of what they're interested in studying," program coordinator Lindsay acknowledges. "It's a significant discount on their out of state tuition bill, so if they're leaning towards studying a certain program, it makes sense for them to go in that direction."
Students are not locked into their selected major, but a mid-college change to another program may mean they're no longer eligible for the tuition break. Similarly, nonresidents who switch to an eligible degree program midway through their college career can apply for the discount at that time. New programs are approved every year, Lindsay says, and some universities offer discounts on associate and graduate degrees as well.
For students in the South: Academic Common Market
Eligible states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia
Average savings: N/A
As in the New England region, students in southern states are only eligible for tuition discounts if they are completing a degree program that's not offered in their home state. The program encompasses more than 100 public schools throughout the South, including the University of Maryland—College Park and the University of Memphis. Schools in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas only offer tuition reductions at the graduate level, and residents of those states can only get regional tuition breaks for graduate study. Select schools in other states, including the College of William and Mary, also only give regional breaks to out of state graduate students.
Depending on state of residence, both undergraduates and graduate students may qualify for tuition discounts, and students enrolled in distance learning programs may be eligible, too.
For students in the West: Western Undergraduate Exchange
Eligible states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
Average savings: $7,500/year
The largest of the regional programs, the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) offers reductions to residents of 15 states. Participating schools charge enrolled out-of-staters no more than 150 percent of the in-state tuition rate. Some schools open the program up to a wide variety of major programs; others, like the University of Arizona, keep the program very narrow. (At that campus, which is the flagship location of the school, only students who major in mining engineering are eligible to enroll, though some of the university's branch campuses are more lenient.)
The WUE program is growing in popularity: In 2010, more than 26,000 Western residents took advantage of the tuition reductions. (North Dakota residents get an added bonus: Because that state is a member of both the Western and Midwestern compact, students can qualify for tuition breaks in both regions.) WUE recommends that eligible students apply early to avoid missing out on funding at their respective schools.
For students in the Midwest: Midwest Student Exchange Program
Eligible states: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Wisconsin
Average savings: $4,274/year
For the first time this year, Illinois residents join students from eight other Midwestern states in being eligible for regional tuition breaks. Because two schools in that state, Greenville College and Lewis and Clark Community College, recently opted into the program, all Illinois residents admitted to college as of August 15 can apply for tuition breaks in nearby states. The Midwest program is not restricted by majors, though schools can limit what degree programs will qualify students for the discount.
Like WUE, after which the program was modeled, public schools pledge not to hike out-of-state tuition more than 150 percent of the in-state rate. Private universities are eligible for the program, too, and participating schools discount tuition for regional students by 10 percent. Also similar to WUE, the compact credits the program's impetus to regional ties.
"There's a camaraderie that's built around [the Midwest] identity," says program coordinator Amber Cameron. "If we can at least open our doors to students from the states in the region, we're working as a region to increase our education levels."
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