Who pays in-state tuition

Personal Finance

January 09, 2007|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,Sun Columnist

The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at public universities is thousands of dollars a year. Who could blame parents for wondering what it takes to qualify for the lower rate?

Janet is one of them. She lives and works in Baltimore County for most of the year and pays Maryland income taxes. But she also owns a vacation home in Delaware where she spends three to four months a year. Her daughter will likely attend the University of Delaware.

"Is there any way or any steps that can be taken so that we may pay in-state tuition?" she asks via e-mail.

Residency rules differ from state to state. But the philosophy is pretty much the same everywhere: Residents get tuition breaks because they pay taxes that support state schools. So the test of who is a resident tends to be very stringent.

Janet would have to make a major lifestyle change to qualify for in-state status. Specifically, she would have to make Delaware her principal residence and move there a full year before her daughter starts classes, says Barbara Johnston, who handles residency questions at the home of the Fightin' Blue Hens. Johnston says the university looks at parents' tax returns and where the student went to high school to verify residency.

Janet's daughter could qualify at some point for in-state tuition, even if her parents don't leave Maryland. But that would require the teenager to prove she's financially independent of Mom and Dad and meet the one-year residency requirement.

It's not unusual for nonresidents to try to pass themselves off as First Staters. "We have a lot of people who use somebody else's address or try to use a beach-house address," Johnston says.

Even if the school doesn't uncover non-Delawareans, others might. "We've had kids write to us anonymously," turning in out-of-staters who boast at parties about paying in-state tuition, Johnston says.

At the University of Delaware, the price gap between in- and out-of-state tuition is wide. The spring semester for undergraduates will cost $3,490 for residents and $8,845 for everyone else. That's a $5,355 difference - for just one semester. If it's any consolation, housing, dining and health fees are the same for all.

Back in Terrapin territory, residency requirements are similar. University of Maryland students will end up paying out-of-state tuition if they apply to the school while living elsewhere or they are financially independent on a nonresident. Tuition and fees this year for nonresidents are $21,345, compared with $7,906 for a Marylander.

Students can apply for in-state status if they intend to make Maryland their home, although nine hurdles must be overcome. Among them: They must live - with most of their personal property - for 12 consecutive months in Maryland. They must have a Maryland license if they drive, pay state taxes if they have taxable income and register to vote here if they exercise that right.

Students caught lying to get in-state tuition may have their admissions offer rescinded, says Laura Cosgrove, assistant director of undergraduate admissions.

States do generally show leniency for military transfers. The University System of Maryland recently said it would set aside the one-year residency rule for civilian employees and defense contractors moving here under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

For a list of state-by-state residency requirements, check out http:--www.finaid.org/otheraid/stateresidency.phtml.

Questions? Comments? Write personal.finance@baltsun.com

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