Tuition Reciprocity Agreements Overpromise & Under-Deliver


The allure of going to an out-of-state college at an in-state cost with no effort whatsoever is attractive.  Tuition reciprocity agreements seem to offer just that and millions of college bound students every year excitedly stumble upon what looks like tuition salvation. But much like a vision of an oasis on the horizon when you’re dying in the desert, the tuition relief assured by reciprocity agreements usually isn’t actually there.

The fever-dream: Go to any college of your dreams in a nearby state but pay cheap in-state tuition automatically.

The reality: Go to your 4th favorite college in a nearby state so long as you study underwater basket-weaving (or another obscure/unpopular major). If you’re lucky and first in line, then get an un-guaranteed tuition discount that isn’t as much as you thought and which you could easily lose.


Some oases are real. That’s why it’s worthwhile to look into reciprocity agreements (you won’t die of thirst after all), but don’t get your hopes up too high because severe restrictions and limitations exist. Here are 10 reasons why tuition reciprocity agreements aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

1) Lots of Popular Universities Opt-Out

For example, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are among the 15 member states that make up the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) reciprocity program. The most sought-after schools in each state: University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Oregon-Eugene, and the University of Washington-Seattle do not participate in the reciprocity agreement.

2) Major Restrictions

At participating colleges, only certain majors of study are approved for the reciprocity tuition rate (typically around 150% in-state tuition). Don’t know your major yet or is there a possibly you’ll want to change your major? Bummer.

This is the case for all states that comprise the Academic Common Market (ACM).  Among the ACM’s requirements, not only must you ensure your degree program is approved by the ACM, but the degree must not be offered by institutions within your home state.

3) High Achievers Only

For instance, some requirements to get tuition reciprocity at Kansas State University via the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) include residency in an approved state, specific criteria for high school GPA (3.5) and ACT (minimum of 24), and the chosen curriculum must be covered by MSEP.

4) Limited Seats Available

Most universities set restrictions on the total number of reciprocity seats available. This will vary by university and the number is almost always unpublished.

5) Not Automatic

Most people believe that upon application, you’re automatically awarded the discounted rate. Rarely. Usually a separate application is required; this will depend on the university.

6) Might Require a Leap of Faith

Not always the case, but sometimes you won’t have a chance to know whether you get the discounted rate until after you’ve accepted to the college. You’d be left to guess. Seem unfair? It is. Refuse to formally accept until a college says for certain.

7) Keep Your Grades Up or Lose It

There are ongoing high academic requirements:

After getting the tuition reduction at Kansas State University, in order to keep it the student must maintain full-time status, remain a resident in a participating state, and maintain a cumulative grade point average of no less than 3.0, with the department chair having to ensure the student is making a certain level of progress toward the degree.

8) Not Forever

It’s usually good for a maximum of 4 years.  What if you need more credits or more time to graduate?  What if you want to take up a minor or a second major?  You’ll have to pay out-of-state rate.

9) Must Remain Resident of Home State

Technically, if you make any steps toward becoming a resident of the new state (like inadvertently registering to vote), then you could lose your discount.

10) Eliminates Opportunity for True In-State Tuition

These restrictions don’t exist if you were to become a resident of the new state and earn true in-state tuition instead.  Even if you could get a reciprocity agreement, it might still make sense to opt for in-state tuition vs. 150% in-state tuition. You have a lot more flexibility with in-state status.

Things to keep in mind

Nearby States Only

Live in South Carolina but want to go to college in Hawaii?  Or in Florida but want to go to college in Wisconsin? No can do. There are 4 major regional reciprocity agreements and you’ll need to stay in your region. There are also state-specific reciprocity agreements. There are also Some agreements are made between specific counties of states and even between another country, such is the case for an agreement between provinces in Canada and states like North Dakota and Minnesota.

Learn more about all the regional, state, and university-specific reciprocity agreements here.

All schools are unique…

The applications, requirements, and deadlines vary from institution to institution, so it is very important to inquire directly with the school(s) of interest for their specifics. What are the eligibility requirements? Do you have to apply for the reciprocity each year? Can you still apply for/receive financial aid if you are granted the tuition reduction via reciprocity? Are there limited spaces available?

Also See:

Tuition Reciprocity Agreements Explained


Submit a Comment