Why Out-of-State Tuition Can Be Triple the Price of In-State Tuition

Why is out-of-state tuition so expensive, and sometimes triple what in-state students pay? Here's how out-of-staters can get discounts.

Dan Clarendon - Author

Jul. 13 2021, Published 5:56 a.m. ET

A college student in a library
Source: Getty Images

According to College Board data, in-state students will pay an average of $9,410 in tuition and fees at a public four-year college, while out-of-state students will pay an average of $23,890, more than $14,000 more than their in-state peers.

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College aspirants on Twitter have taken notice. “Bro, why is out-of-state tuition for schools so expensive?” one wrote. “A semester is damn near half six figures. No wonder y’all in debt.”

Another tweeted, “I just wanna leave this state and not go $100,000+ into debt in the process.” A third person wrote, “Like, I’m gonna be living in that state for four years. Why do I have to pay more money just because I’m not from there?” And another user pounded out their frustration in all-caps. “OUT OF STATE TUITION PRICES ARE AWFUL, F--K THE AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM,” that person tweeted, adding a GIF of a Disney character screaming in rage.

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Out-of-state students pay more because their families don’t pay taxes to the school’s state

college student
Source: Getty Images

According to Nationwide, schools charge out-of-state residents more—sometimes even triple—because the out-of-state student’s family members aren’t paying the state tax money, which filters down to public schools.

To give you a sense of the disparity, we can look at some figures. College Counselor Services reports that the highest in-state tuition, charged by the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, is $17,772. Meanwhile, the highest out-of-state tuition is the $42,184 charged by the University of Virginia.

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Nationwide notes that students who live close to the state border can sometimes get savings on their out-of-state tuition. Also, a student who has lived in the same state as their desired school for at least a year can sometimes get in-state tuition by showing proof of residency and agreeing to reside in that state indefinitely. However, schools might not offer lower-cost tuition if they find that the student’s parents live out of state.

Reciprocity programs can reduce out-of-state costs.

Various states offer reciprocity or exchange programs that give discounts on out-of-state tuition fees, though those discounts don’t always bring the price down to the in-tuition rate. They may also only admit a certain number of students.

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“I remember my teachers saying, ‘Make sure you look at Minnesota schools because it’ll cost basically the same,’” Wisconsin native Chelsea Clark, a 2018 graduate of the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities nursing program, told U.S. News & World Report earlier this year. “Any time they talked about college exploration options, Minnesota schools were always brought up.”

Out-of-state students can pay in-state tuition in special circumstances

Nationwide reports on some of the special circumstances where out-of-state students can pay in-state tuition. For example, schools might offer the in-state rate to veterans or to children of teachers, police officers, firefighters, military members, school employees, or school alumni. Schools sometimes also reward high grades by offering the in-state rate.


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