Resident, Non-Resident, and In-Between

Resident, Non-Resident, and In-Between

In this article I explain how students attending out-of-state public schools needn’t pay the full nonresident tuition price that may otherwise keep them in-state, and how attending another state’s school(s) may actually save a student money over attending their own in-state college(s).

Quite often in college selection, students can feel somewhat forced into a state school for pricing reasons. After all, the average sticker tuition cost of a public institution is about 3.6 times less than a private institution, and that difference matters over the course of four years, with the total cost of tuition averaging just over $34,000 at a public school or $123,000 at a private school, notwithstanding discounts and scholarships and the like.

But to be more specific yet, students can feel somewhat forced into a particular set of state schools … those on their home turf. After all, the difference between in-state public school tuition and out-of-state public school tuition looms almost as large as those between public and private, with costs usually running around 3x or more for kids attending state schools outside of their resident borders. So while Washington State might be more attractive on a Rank basis to an Arizona resident than the three state schools of prominence here, when looking at the sticker prices involved it might appear an unjustified extra expense all the same.

For example, the three state schools of Arizona have sticker resident tuitions of $9,684 (ASU), $9,746 (NAU), and $10,752 (UofA), and these are substantially cheaper than the sticker non-resident cost of $23,956 at Washington State. Certainly, any way you cut it a $40,000 4-year college education is quite a bit cheaper, and therefore likely more affordable all things considered, than a nearly $100,000 one.

I know this really bummed me out when I graduated high school – one of my key Rank objectives was to get a fresh start far, far away from my hometown and to see a little bit more of the country than I’d already known. Another was to attend a smaller school than what my state could offer. Though cheaper than my other known options, my in-state schools were both too near and too populous for my liking.

However, one needn’t despair altogether if the in-state school option seems affordable on the Resource and Return level but seem unpalatable otherwise. Further, one needn’t despair if one’s state schools don’t even pass muster financially.

Thanks to regional Student Exchange Programs, schools in the same geographical region often form consortiums, and agree to offer either in-state or capped rates to students from other participating state schools. For instance, the west has one such program, the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), and similar programs exist for schools in other regions. While particular schools may have more individualized agreements with even better terms, WUE partnership schools have all agreed to charge in-region students a maximum 150% of their in-state tuition.

This means several things for the student. For one, they may find that an out-of-state school of a particular stripe elsewhere offers the sorts of experience and amenities they otherwise had looked only to private schools to provide. For two, one can expand one’s scope of affordable schools considerably. For three, the student may actually attend an out-of-state school for less money than they would have spent in-state.

This last fact is particularly striking as I work primarily with residents of Arizona. Here we only have three in-state public four-year institutions. As already noted, they all cost just shy of $10,000 in tuition alone. But if a person were willing, or wanting, to travel to another WUE-associated school, he or she could actually save money by doing so. The pricing details can be found here (WUE Tuition Savings Chart). When scanning for alternative four-year colleges that would be cheaper to attend than my in-state options 3  in Alaska, 14 in California, 1 in Hawaii, 4 in Idaho, 6 in Montana, 3 in Nevada, 7 in New Mexico, 6 in North Dakota, 5 in Utah, 3 in Washington, and 1 in Wyoming would fit the bill.

Thus, I would encourage students to largely ignore the posted resident and nonresident tuition numbers of schools int their proximity as they seek to identify affordable schools. Quite likely, schools within an entire region may be cheaper than previously thought, possibly even cheaper than what one can find in-state.