How to Qualify for Out-of-State Tuition Breaks

Students in nearly every state are eligible for little-known regional reductions--with a few caveats.

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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.”

[Follow these 10 steps to pick the right college for you.]

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."

[Find out which public colleges are most expensive for out-of-state students.]

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."