Public institutions offer state residency tuition breaks to students who are residents of their state. Additionally, some institutions offer students from neighboring states in-state and regional grad school tuition breaks. If you hope to save money by going to graduate school in-state, you should also look at neighboring states to see if you are eligible for in-state tuition.

Tuition breaks in your own state: In-state tuition

Attending a public university in your state of residence may be a great way to get a high-caliber graduate education at a lower cost. Every state has at least one public institution of higher education. The fundamental difference between public and private schools is that public schools are government funded—they receive a predominant amount of funding from the state and federal governments. As such, the mission of publicly funded, state schools usually includes a public benefit aspect—providing teaching, learning, research and educational resources, and access to those resources, to all residents of a state.

Part of a state university’s responsibility of providing access to its resources is making education at that school affordable to state residents. Since your state university exists as a result of tax dollars collected from you and your fellow residents, the cost of attending has already been partly “subsidized” for you. On average, state school tuition will be much cheaper than that of a private university.

Tuition breaks in other states

So, what if your state does not offer the graduate programs you seek? Or you don’t feel the program is a good fit for your goals? Or you really want to study in another state? There may be some more cost-saving options available next door.

Not all compact member states participate in the regional student-exchange program. For example, South Dakota is a member of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) but does not participate in the MHEC Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP). Residents from the participating MSEP member states such as Kansas who study in South Dakota will not receive a discounted tuition. Conversely, because South Dakota does not participate in the MHEC student-exchange program, its residents are not eligible for tuition discounts in participating MSEP states.

Even within participating states of a compact, the student exchange program may only be available at some educational institutions or some of their graduate programs. So, while Ferris State University in Michigan participates in the MSEP, tuition discounts are only applicable for some of its graduate programs (such as business and education), but not others (nursing).

Regional student exchange programs

Many states belong to an interstate compact, basically a group that coordinates educational activities of states from the region. The purpose of these compacts is to advance higher education through regional cooperation and resource sharing. One way that states share educational resources with each other and their residents is through regional student exchange programs.

While the specifics of each compact’s program may differ, member states generally allow residents of neighboring states to take advantage of tuition discounts in their state. (For instance, Florida might permit students from Georgia and Alabama to attend Florida State and University of Florida for the same tuition rates that it extends its own residents.) Good things to know as you look into regional student exchange programs:

  • You do not need to meet any financial aid requirements to receive the tuition discounts.
  • If you receive a tuition discount you are still eligible to apply for financial assistance at your program of interest.
  • Part-time study may be an option as long as you’re enrolled in a degree program (and not just taking a course here and there).
  • Some programs or universities may offer tuition breaks for online courses if there’s a fee difference for in-state and out-of-state students.

Note: Participating states and programs can and do change so be sure to check with the compact website for the most up-to-date information.

It’s worth noting that two states, North and South Dakota, belong to more than one compact, and three others—New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—do not belong to any.

The four interstate compacts and their regional student exchange programs are (also see our table below):

Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC)

Twelve Midwestern states belong to the MHEC. Of those 12 states, eight participate in the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP), which allows students from those states to attend a public institution in any of the other seven participating states at a reduced tuition not to exceed 150 percent of in-state tuition. Private colleges and universities offer a 10 percent tuition reduction. Students may realize savings between $500 and $3,000. Jennifer Dahlquist, Director of Student Access at MHEC, says “MSEP is an easy way to save money on out-of-state education costs for graduate students, and in this economy, what student isn’t looking to save where they can?”

  • You may be eligible to participate in the MSEP if you live in one of these states: Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin
  • MSEP is not currently available to you if you are a resident of one of these state: Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, South Dakota

Applying: Requirements and deadlines vary from institution to institution. Inquire directly with your school of interest for exact information.

New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE)

All six member states of the NEBHE participate in the Regional Student Program (RSP), which allows students to enroll in out-of-state public universities at a reduced rate if they are seeking a graduate degree not offered by their home state’s institutions. The tuition, if enrolled under this program, is not to exceed 175 percent of the university’s in-state tuition, on average saving the student $7,000 per year.

  • You may be eligible to participate in the RSP if you live in one of these states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont

The graduate programs approved under the RSP are listed in the annual RSP catalog and program database, both available on the web at www.nebhe.org. In addition, graduate students may sometimes petition for RSP eligibility by providing documentation that a program is not offered at public universities in their home state, or that an out-of-state university is closer to home than an in-state university. Eligibility for graduate programs and the Proximity Policy is explained in more detail at www.nebhe.org.

Wendy Lindsay, RSP Director, says, “NEBHE’s Regional Student Program has been helping New England residents access and afford the graduate program of their choice at an out-of-state public university within the region for more than 50 years. More than 250 graduate programs are offered under the RSP in diverse fields of study, including the Biological Sciences, Engineering, the Health Professions, and Education, to name a few, and eligible students save thousands of dollars on their annual tuition bills.”

Applying: You must declare, “applying for NEBHE RSP Tuition Break” on your application for admission. There is no separate application process for the tuition break and you will be notified of acceptance in the RSP program when you are accepted into the grad school. Note: Grad students may be enrolled full-time or part-time (unless an institution requires full-time). Some institutions may also allow RSP eligibility for online programs.

Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)

Sixteen states comprise the SREB and participate in the Academic Common Market (ACM) program. Under the agreement of participating states, students can attend an out-of-state public university if they are seeking a degree in an area not offered by their home state’s universities. If admitted as an ACM student, they will pay only the university’s in-state tuition.

  • If you live in one of these states, you may be eligible to participate in the ACM:
  • Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia

Applying: In addition to applying to your graduate program of interest, you must complete an ACM application and certification of residency through your home state. Each state’s ACM application and certification process varies.

If you are looking for online options, SREB also has the Academic Common Market/Electronic Campus (ACM/EC) program, which allows the students to pay in-state tuition rates for online programs not available in their home state.

SREB offers tuition discounts for students of professional health degrees through the Regional Contract Program (RCP). If you are pursuing a degree in the field of dentistry, medicine, optometry, podiatry, veterinary medicine, or osteopathic medicine and your state participates in RCP, you can gain admission to participating schools for the price of in-state tuition and fees at public institutions, and reduced tuition at private institutions.

“Participating states pay schools to maintain spots in their professional programs,” which means there are a limited number of spaces available for students to take advantage of RCP, and as such admissions is more competitive.

  • If you live in one of these states you may be eligible to participate in RCP:
  • Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia
  • If you are a resident of one of these states, RCP is not currently available to you:
  • Florida, Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia

Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)

WICHE has 15 member states and offers the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP) for grad students. Participating universities offer certain graduate programs to students of all the member states at in-state tuition rates. Unlike the other compact agreements, the graduate programs offered under this agreement are specifically chosen to be included.

  • If you live in one of these states, you may be eligible to participate in WRGP:Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
  • Residents of California are not eligible to participate in WRGP, since the state is not currently a member of the program.

Applying: You must identify yourself as a “WICHE WRGP” applicant on your application form.

WICHE also offers the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP) to students in 12 member states interested in specified healthcare programs. Exchange students receive preference in admission and pay reduced tuition. Spaces for PSEP students are limited and so may be competitive.

  • If you live in one of these states, you may be eligible to participate in the PSEP:
  • Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
  • If you are a resident of one of these states, PSEP is not currently available to you:
  • California, Oregon, South Dakota

Applying: Prospective PSEP students must contact their state certifying officer for an application and be certified as a resident of that state to prove eligibility for PSEP program participation. WICHE recommends obtaining certification early. Then apply directly to your programs of interest indicating that you are WICHE certified, or have applied for certification.

Here’s a table of the different compacts and their public and private institution discounts and application process. Be sure to check the compact website for the most up-to-date information.

Table of state compacts and their tuition discounts

Compact tuition reduction program Eligible state residents Discount at out-of-state public university Discount at out-of-state private university Application process Financial aid eligible? Study options (Part-time, online?)
MHEC Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin Not to exceed 150% of in-state tuition 10% discount Varies by institution Varies by institution Varies by institution for part-time study
NEBHE Regional Student Program (RSP) Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont Not to exceed 175% of in-state tuition None No separate application. Must declare on application “applying for NEBHE RSP Tuition Break” Yes Varies by institution
SREB Academic Common Market (ACM) Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia 100% of in-state tuition None Must complete ACM application and certification of residency through home state Varies by institution Part-time study options vary by institution. Online through the Electronic Campus program
SREB Regional Contract Program (RCP) Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia Reduction of in-state tuition Reduction in tuition Must complete RCP certification of residency through home state Varies by institution Not available for either online or part-time study
WICHE Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP) Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming 100% of in-state tuition NA Apply directly to department at institution of choice and identify self as “WICHE WRGP” applicant Yes Part-time students are eligible, online courses offered at the discretion of the school
WICHE Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP) Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming Varies by university Varies by university Contact state certifying officer for application. Must be certified by state of residence to prove eligibility in program, then apply. WICHE recommends getting certification early. Check with the university Full-time study only, no online study

Direct tuition reciprocity

In addition to student exchange programs, some states also have direct tuition reciprocity agreements with other states or specific counties in another state—and even neighboring Canadian provinces as in the case of North Dakota and Minnesota—that allow their residents to take advantage of in-state tuition as out-of-state, or as the case may be, out-of-country, students.

Tuition reciprocity agreements differ widely from state to state in eligibility and limitations, and are arranged between the higher education governing body of each state or province. Some states have set time limits to their agreements, and others have ongoing agreements. Check out the chart below to see if your state participates in tuition reciprocity. You should search for “reciprocity and exchange programs” on your home state’s higher education website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Chart of tuition reduction program participation by state

Student exchange programs available to graduate students (with sponsoring regional compacts in parentheses)

ACM=Academic Common Market (SREB)

MSEP=Midwest Student Exchange Program (MHEC)

PSEP=Professional Student Exchange Program (WICHE)

RSP=Regional Student Program (NEBHE)

WRGP=Western Regional Graduate Program (WICHE)

Chart of tuition reduction program participation by state

State of residency Compact member Student exchange program Students may use exchange program in these states Direct tuition reciprocity Special programs
Alabama SREB ACM AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Alaska WICHE WRGP AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY
Arizona WICHE WRGP AK, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY
Arkansas SREB ACM AL, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
California WICHE
Colorado WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY NM
Connecticut NEBHE RSP ME, MA, NH, RI, VT
Delaware SREB ACM AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Florida SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Georgia SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Hawaii WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY
Idaho WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY WA, UT limited basis
Illinois MHEC
Indiana MHEC MSEP KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, WI
Iowa MHEC
Kansas MHEC MSEP IN, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, WI
Kentucky SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Louisiana SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Maine NEBHE RSP CT, MA, NH, RI, VT
Maryland SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Massachusetts NEBHE RSP CT, ME, NH, RI, VT
Michigan MHEC MSEP IN, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, WI
Minnesota MHEC MSEP IN, KS, MI, MO, NE WI, ND, SD, Manitoba
Mississippi SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Missouri MHEC MSEP IN, KS, MN, NE, ND, WI bordering counties
Montana WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY
Nebraska MHEC MSEP IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, WI
Nevada WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY
New Hampshire NEBHE RSP CT, ME, MA, RI, VT
New Jersey
New Mexico WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY CO
New York
North Carolina SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
North Dakota MHEC, WICHE MSEP, WRGP IN, KS, MI, MO, NE, WI AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY MN, Manitoba, Saskachewan
Ohio MHEC KY bordering counties
Oklahoma SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Oregon WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, SD, UT, WA, WY
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island NEBHE RSP CT, ME, MA, NH, VT
South Carolina SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, TN, TX, VA, WV
South Dakota WICHE, MHEC WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, UT, WA, WY MN
Tennessee SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TX, VA, WV
Texas SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, VA, WV
Utah WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, WA, WY ID limited basis
Vermont NEBHE RSP CT, ME, MA, NH, RI
Virginia SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, WV
Washington WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WY Grants in-state tuition to grad students who’ve applied for residency, lived in WA for 1+ years
West Virginia SREB ACM AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA
Wisconsin MHEC MSEP IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND MN, MI limited
Wyoming WICHE WRGP AK, AZ, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, ND, OR, SD, UT, WA

Changing state residency

If your state does not participate in any or all of these programs, and you are interested in studying in another state, you may consider moving there and establishing residency to qualify for in-state tuition. The reduced tuition will, however, only apply for the state university system and not private educational institutions.

Peace Corps alum

Certain states also offer in-state tuition rates to nonresident returning Peace Corps Volunteers. The best way to find out if your state of interest does this is to check with a state’s department of education and your local Returned Peace Corps Volunteers chapter to find more information about educational resources available.

Be aware that each state has its own requirements (durational and documentary) for establishing residency and that you may have to delay your graduate studies before qualifying as an in-state resident. For most states you will have to prove that you’ve lived in-state for reasons other than education for 12 consecutive months prior to starting school. Some ways you may be able to provide “evidence of domicile” are by registering to vote, filing personal income tax forms as a resident, and getting a state driver’s license.

Since you’ll have to demonstrate that your “good faith” intentions to remain a resident of the state even after you study, plan on staying productive while you establish residency. Researching and applying for jobs, term-of-service programs, and volunteer or internship opportunities are all a good bet before you move to a new state.

Individual schools may have different residency requirements than the state so be sure to check with the school you are interested in as well as the state to determine what those are and whether they differ.

  • Learn about residency requirements in your state of interest (Be sure to double check directly with that state’s governing body of education, as requirements may change at any time!)
  • Look for nonprofit opportunities in another state
  • Consult Chapter Six of either of The Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers for help with your job search

Application process

The process for applying as an exchange student to receive tuition discounts in another state varies from regional program to regional program. To apply to a grad school as a regional exchange student:

  1. Check with your home state’s regional compact for more specific guidelines on how to qualify for the tuition reduction.
  2. Then check to see if your graduate program(s) of interest participate in the regional exchange.

Regardless of your eligibility for the regional program, you must still follow the application process and meet the requirements for the grad school you apply to as an exchange student. Schools may also have additional admissions requirements for regional exchange students.

Due to variations in how grad schools (even within one state) process regional exchange student applications, be sure to ask the following questions (as appropriate for your situation) when applying to each school:

  • What other eligibility requirements, in addition to your normal application, do I need to meet?
  • May I receive the tuition discount if I study part-time? Online?
  • May I still apply for financial aid in addition to the tuition discount?
  • What are the return obligations, if any? (For example, about half of WICHE’s PSEP states require students to serve in their home state after graduation. The terms vary and you need to check with your home state for details.)
  • Do I need to reapply each year as a regional exchange student?
  • Are there limited spaces available for regional exchange students?

The only constant amongst any of the programs participating in the tuition reduction program is the agreement on how much a graduate program can charge you as an out-of-state, regional exchange student.

On the admissions side, applications from regional exchange students do not typically take any longer than an in-state application. The only delay you may experience is in being billed at the reduced tuition rate. Graduate programs may wait to bill you after the add/drop period and then run reports on final enrollment to see who qualifies for the tuition break and bill accordingly.

Conclusion and further resources

Leveraging in-state tuition and tuition reduction programs can benefit you in several ways. Considering public schools can increase your options for graduate programs and give you some more financial breathing room.

For some states, the student exchange program agreement allows the states and their educational institutions to conserve and concentrate their resources and specialize in certain fields of study, thereby providing stronger programs to students at more affordable costs.

Interstate student exchanges help promote regional and academic diversity on campus and in the local community. Studying and living in another state is an opportunity to not only experience another area of the country, but also to extend networks that may open other doors for you.

Regardless of whether your state participates in any tuition reduction programs, or offers graduate programs you’re interested in, researching ways to finance your graduate education and reduce the cost of your graduate degree is always a good idea.