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In-State Tuition and State Residency Requirements

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State residents often qualify for lower in-state tuition rates and state education grants. Most states have established residency requirements designed to prevent out-of-state students who become residents incidental to their education from qualifying.

These residency requirements are often encoded in state statute, and vary significantly from state to state. But generally, a dependent student must have at least one parent who is a state resident for at least one full year before the student matriculated in college. (Arkansas requires just six months. Alaska requires 24 months. Tennessee does not have a durational component to their residency requirements.) The parent should be the student's source of financial support, but does not necessarily need to have claimed the student as a dependent on their income tax returns. (If the student receives substantial financial support from out of state, the student's state residency status may be questioned. This can include PLUS loans borrowed by a parent who does not reside in the state. Also, if the student's parents are divorced, residency is often based on the residency status of the custodial parent.)

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For independent students, either they or their spouse must have been a state resident for at least a year before the first day of classes. Some states require two years of residency and self sufficiency for independent students (e.g., the old Bright-Line Test for independent student status). These states include Arizona and California. Some states may also have a minimum age requirement for independent students to qualify as in-state residents (e.g., 19, 21, 23, 24), but may allow legally emancipated minors to qualify is they satisfy the durational requirements. Nebraska does not have a minimum period of residency for parents of dependent students, but uses the one-year standard for independent students. Some states (e.g., Minnesota) require a full calendar year of residency and not just twelve months prior to the first day of classes.

Residency requirements may be established by the state board of higher education. The authority to determine whether a student qualifies may have been delegated to the college. In such situations the school will want to see a preponderance of evidence that the family established state residency (both physical presence and intent), and that this residency was not merely incidental to the college attendance.

The determination as to whether a student qualifies is made by the tuition classification officer (usually someone in the Office of Admissions or Registrar) at each college or university. Each college's decision is binding only at that college. There is usually no appeal beyond the university.

It is best to have at least two government-issued documents that demonstrate state residency. At least one of these documents establishing residency must be dated at least twelve months prior to the first day of classes. Examples include:

  • Registering to vote in the state, as evidenced by a voter registration card.
  • Registering with Selective Service in the state.
  • Filing a Declaration of Domicile form with the county clerk at the start of residency.
  • Filing state and federal income tax returns with an in-state residential address.
  • Attending secondary school in the state.

Other activities do not in and of themselves establish residency, but rather intent to establish residency. Nevertheless, the more such activities you can document, the more convincing your case will be. These include:

  • Obtaining a state driver's license.
  • Registering a vehicle in the state.
  • Obtaining a state hunting and/or fishing license
  • Opening a local bank account.
  • Getting a local library card.

Having any of these connections to another state may make it more difficult to establish in-state residency. For example, having a driver's license or owning a home in another state or voting as a resident in another state may be seen as inconsistent with an intention to establish or maintain permanent residency in the state.

Of course, owning a home in the state and being employed in the state also help. But neither of these is conclusive, as many people own vacation homes (or may even buy a house for the duration of their college education) and it is possible to work in one state while living in another. Qualifying for the homestead exemption is more definitive, since it requires one to be a resident and one cannot qualify for the homestead exemption in two locations.

Other activities that demonstrate continuous physical presence in the state are helpful, such as belonging to local civic groups, business/professional organizations, social organizations, clubs and fraternal organizations.

The individual should generally have a stronger connection to the state than to any other state. The connection to the state should not have commenced around the time the student applied for admission or was accepted for admission to the state school.

Exceptions are often made for military personnel, children of first responders killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty, orphans, students with dependents other than a spouse, teachers and government employees.

US citizenship or permanent residency is usually required for state residency for tuition purposes. For an international student to be considered a state resident they must have a status that permits them to remain indefinitely in the United States. Students with nonimmigrant visa, such as a B, F, J or M status visa, will generally not be considered eligible for state residency status.

Individual State Residency Requirements

Another source of information is the College Board's October 2001 guide to the state residency requirements in individual states. Due to its age, some of the information may no longer be accurate.

DoD In-State Tuition provides information concerning the eligibility of members of the military for in-state tuition rates.

 

 
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