In-state and out-of-state tuition can often vary widely, and can sometimes be frustrating to students looking to attend from out-of-state but are unable to cover the price tag. However, there is a legitimate reason why colleges charge more to out-of-state students, even if this happens to be thousands more. And here’s why.

Public universities receive public funding by way of tax dollars paid by state residents. A large chunk of money that these public universities get each year are paid by taxpayers who live in that state. It only make sense then that in-state students should catch a break in tuition since their families have helped pay for public university’s operating costs since they have been a residence, and will continue to do so as long as they stay in that state.

Another reason for in-state tuition to be cheaper is because states want to keep their residents in-state. Their investment for keeping their students in-state pays off when that student graduates and starts working in-state as well, essentially helping boost the economy from within, and contributing to the social and cultural climate of the state.


In some cases, public school will offer in-state tuition to out-of-state students. Typically this happens when a program of study is not available to the student in their home state, or the states make an agreement with one another to offer in-state or close to in-state tuition to students from each other’s states. For example, the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program offers out-of-state students tuition at 1.5 times as much as in-state tuition; states included are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Check with your guidance counselor at your high school and financial aid office at your potential school to see if there are any options like this with the state you reside in.

In-state requirements

In-state requirements and establishing residency will vary state to state, but you can always ask your prospective school what is required to establish residency. Typically it takes one year of living in the state and you will be required to perform certain tasks, for example obtaining a driver’s license in the state, filing taxes in the state, etc. It is important that you research this and contact the school personally to be sure you are taking the right steps to obtain residency.

Some students will also move to the state they want to go to school a year before they even apply as well. If you plan to go out-of-state, establishing residency is crucial to lower your cost of tuition and ensure you are able to afford to attend until graduation. Establishing residency might also open up other financial aid opportunities as well, so be sure to ask if there are any scholarships, grants, or other sources of funding available only to in-state students. Whether or not you want to obtain residency will have to do with your specific financial situation so you should be sure to weigh your options before jumping the gun and making the wrong decision.