Alamy Great news! Your daughter is ready to go off to college, and you just heard back that she’s been accepted to the University of Virginia, where in-state tuition and fees are running just under $12,000.
Horrible news! You don’t live in Virginia. You live in [somewhere else]. And as a result, sending Little Miss off to UVA is likely to cost you nearly $37,000 — three times the price for an in-state student.
If this situation sounds familiar, it should. It’s a dilemma that hundreds of thousands of parents face every school year.
Live on the right side of the state line, and you can get a world-class education at a “name” public university for a bargain price. Live on the wrong side and you’re faced with a choice: Send your kid to your local Podunk State U. for the cheap in-state rate, or pay through the nose for his public or private dream school. (Because once out-of-state surcharges are figured in, there’s often little difference between the tuition costs of public and private.)
But what if there was a way to get around the provincial strictures of in-state rates? What if there were a way to sneak your kid into his out-of-state dream school at the in-state price?
A Bible for Cheapskates
Turns out, there may be a way. There may even be several.
In the personal finance book “Achieve Financial Freedom — Big Time!” authors Sandy and Matthew Botkin lay out a handful of strategies for securing in-state tuition rates. Not all of them work for all people, all the time, in all situations. But when you’re talking about the chance to cut tuition costs by 66 percent, it’s probably worth examining your options.
Here they are:
1. Take advantage of “academic common markets”: In certain regions of the country, states have banded together to offer in-state tuition rates to students within their “common market.” There are four such markets in existence: Within each common market, students residing in one state, accepted to a school in a different state, can apply for in-state tuition at their preferred school if they’re studying in a major not offered by any public school in their home state.
2. “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania (and Elsewhere)”: An analogous program, less official, more variable, and dubbed the “friendly neighbor policy,” can be found on occasions where states are willing to bend the rules a little. Sometimes, a state will grant in-state tuition rates to a student who lives near the border in a neighboring state, according to “Achieve Financial Freedom.” Emphasis on “sometimes.”
3. We’re All Moving to College: You say your dream school’s home state is not inclined to be friendly? Fine. Do an end-run around too-strict in-state tuition policies by moving to your dream school’s state. Just make sure to do this at least one year before beginning school, and make sure to register to vote, and pay taxes, in your new state as well.
4. Emancipation Proclamations: Too late to move the whole family before school starts? There’s still another option. If a student declares herself independent of her parents — and can prove it by, for example, showing she has sufficient funds (or access to sufficient loans) to pay for tuition and room and board — then it may be possible to become an instant in-state resident even after starting school.
Again, registering to vote and paying taxes in the new state are non-negotiable, the Botkins write. And, of course, the parents will not be able to claim the student as a dependent on their tax returns anymore.
5. You want cheap tuition? Uncle Sam wants YOU! A fifth and final option, according to the book, is available to members of the U.S. military, who can essentially “pick a state” for their domicile, and if that state just happens to be the one with the great in-state tuition rate, well, what a coincidence!
So, getting around the rules for in-state tuition sounds like a snap, right? Hardly. These rules protect many millions of tuition dollars for state schools, and that’s money the schools won’t give up easily.
If you want to avail yourself of any of these options, be ready to argue your rights, and make sure to do further research into any caveats, provisos, and quirks that may apply. This quick summary should only be taken as the starting point for your planning.
But at least it’s a start.
Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no kids heading out of state to school just yet, but as you can see… he’s planning ahead.