How to Save Money on College Tuition: Exchanges and Reciprocal Agreements

Regional exchanges and reciprocal agreements are a great way to make college more affordable when attending an out of state school. These are particularly helpful if attending a healthcare-related program and can save you thousands of dollars in tuition costs in the long run. Keep reading to learn more about how you can take advantage of one of these programs.

Written By

Shannon Lee

- Bio

Shannon Lee has been a freelance writer, editor, and novelist for over 25 years. Her work has appeared on Fox Business, Forbes, MSN, Bob Vila, Modernize, Nashville Scene, MoneyGeek, MVP Parent, and many other outlets; her writing on home improvement led to an editorial position with The Spruce in 2021. She's written extensively on higher education, relationships, and the intersection of technology, health, and medicine. When she's not freelancing, Shannon also writes fiction novels.

last updated

04/12/2022

Tuition exchanges and reciprocity agreements are programs that help students attend a college or university in a nearby state at a lower cost than if they enrolled as traditional non-resident students. These programs provide significant savings since the difference between in-state or out-of-state tuition can easily exceed 300%, according to Statistica. Tuition exchanges and reciprocity agreements offer the dual advantage of a wider selection of affordable schools for students and a greater selection of potential students for participating schools to recruit.

Each reciprocity program varies in how it works and in the conditions placed on students taking advantage of the benefits. To receive the lower tuition rate as an out-of-state student, for example, you must be accepted into an eligible program, not just a participating school. There are also differences related to which schools can join the agreement.

This guide overviews these programs by detailing how they work and how you can take advantage of them to save money when earning your degree.

What Tuition Exchange Programs Exist?

The first type of tuition exchange program is controlled by private, non-profit organizations made up of member schools. The terms of the tuition exchange and the decision to participate depend primarily on each school. These private exchange programs, like the one offered by The Council of Independent Colleges, often base eligibility on a student’s connection to an employee of the member school.

Another type of tuition exchange program is one generally authorized by participating states. The decision to join may come from the state legislature and/or the state’s higher-education agency. These exchanges are the most common and well-known programs. Unlike the non-profit tuition exchanges, government-affiliated reciprocity programs usually have more stringent eligibility requirements.

Are You Eligible for a Tuition Exchange Program?

The four major tuition exchange programs in the United States are the Western Undergraduate Exchange, the Midwest Student Exchange Program, the Academic Common Market, and the New England Regional Student Program. Some schools may also have a “good neighbor” tuition waiver or scholarship program. The following overviews these tuition exchange programs and looks at how eligibility works for each one.

Western Undergraduate Exchange

Also known as WUE, this is the largest regional interstate tuition exchange program in the United States. It’s made up of the 16 states that make up the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). More than 160 schools participate, and the primary benefit allows out-of-state students to pay no more than 150% of any member institution’s tuition rate.

To be eligible, a student must reside in a WICHE state or territory and apply to a public school that’s part of the WUE program. Additionally, the student must plan to study a major that qualifies for the WUE program. This means not all programs are available for the lower tuition rate. Often, only programs that aren’t widely available in the student’s home state are eligible for the special rate. There are also school-specific WUE requirements. For instance, a school might limit the number of WUE students in a given program or require students to have a minimum GPA.

Midwest Student Exchange Program

The Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) is similar to the other regional tuition exchange programs and reciprocity agreements in that it allows eligible students to enroll in a member school as an out-of-state student but be charged no more than 150% of that school’s in-state tuition rate. However, the MSEP is a little different in that private schools are also eligible. MSEP students at eligible private schools receive a 10% discount off the regular tuition rate.

Currently, the MSEP is made up of eight states: Wisconsin, Ohio, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Kansas, and Indiana. More than 50 schools participate in the MSEP program, and they each have their own eligibility requirements, including which degrees are open to MSEP participation, GPA or entrance exam standards, and how many MSEP students a school accepts. At a minimum, a student must be a resident of a member state and be enrolled in a school that participates in the MSEP program.

Academic Common Market

The Academic Common Market (ACM) is the primary tuition exchange program for public schools in the southern region of the United States. The ACM allows students to enroll in specialized fields not available in their home state but pay an in-state tuition rate. Currently, the 15 schools making up the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) participate in the ACM.

To be eligible, a student must live in an SREB state, be admitted to an SREB member school, and plan on earning a degree in a program not available in their home state. If accepted into the ACM program, a student pays tuition as an in-state student.

New England Regional Student Program

Sometimes referred to as NEBHE’s Tuition Break, the New England Regional Student Program (NERSP) allows eligible students to attend a NERSP eligible school as an out-of-state student but pay a tuition rate that’s much lower than if they were considered a traditional out-of-state student. The exact tuition discount depends on the school, but NERSP students pay a maximum of 175% of a school’s in-state tuition rate.

To qualify as a NERSP student, an individual must be a permanent resident of one of the following New England states: Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, or Connecticut. They must then enroll in an approved program at a school that also participates in the NERSP.

Good Neighbor Programs

Good neighbor programs are like regional exchange programs in that they allow certain students to pay a discounted tuition rate that is often well below the out-of-state tuition rate if they’re a resident of a state that borders the state where they want to attend school. Qualifications are school-specific and can include minimum GPA and enrollment in certain academic programs. Some schools may also have a “good neighbor scholarship” that gives eligible international students a tuition waiver for one academic year.

Graduate and Healthcare Specific Programs

Many students who look into a tuition exchange or reciprocity program do so with the intent of earning an undergraduate degree. However, students are increasingly looking to these tuition exchanges as a means of making their master’s, doctoral, or professional healthcare degrees more affordable. Below are some of the key graduate exchange programs available for graduate and healthcare-specific degrees.

Western Regional Graduate Program

The Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP) is like the WUE except it applies to students seeking a graduate degree or graduate certificate. The eligibility requirements are the same in that students must be a resident of a WICHE state or territory, plan on attending a participating WRGP school, and plan on completing an eligible program. If they qualify, a WRGP student pays, at most, 150% of their school’s in-state tuition rate. Specific WRGP requirements are subject to each school’s academic rules and policies.

Professional Student Exchange Program

The Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP) is for individuals seeking degrees in one of ten eligible healthcare fields. Specific eligibility requirements depend on a student’s chosen program and their home state. Generally speaking, a student must be a resident of one of the ten participating WICHE states, which requires the student to live in that state anywhere from one to five years, complete the home state’s PSEP application, and meet the conditions – such as returning to the home state to practice after graduation – placed on acceptance into the PSEP program. The exact savings varies upon acceptance into the PSEP program, but students can save anywhere from $8,000 to $33,000 in tuition costs per academic year.

Regional Contract Program

The Regional Contract Program (RCP) is operated by the SREB but has several differences from ACM. RCP only applies to students seeking professional degrees in a health field, and it applies to not just public schools but private post-secondary institutions as well. If a qualified student attends a public school, they’ll receive in-state tuition. If they enroll in a private school, they receive a tuition discount. A key similarity between the RCP and the ACM is that students must attend a program that’s not offered in their home state

New England Regional Student Program

One of the unique features of the NERSP is that it applies to both undergraduate and graduate programs. Graduate students, however, can also make use of their student petition rights. For example, a graduate student might want to attend a highly-specialized graduate program not available in their home state. If it’s available at another NERSP-member school, they can ask that other school to accept them as a NERSP graduate student. The receiving school has the discretion of whether to approve the student at the reduced tuition rate.

Other Tuition Exchange Opportunities

While state-sanctioned tuition exchanges tend to be more well-known and larger, they’re not the only exchange opportunities that help students save money on higher education. Other non-profit and/or privately operated exchanges also stand out because of their generous tuition benefits. Below are a few examples of alternative tuition exchanges or reciprocity compacts, including their eligibility requirements and tuition advantages.

CIC-TEP

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) is a non-profit organization that promotes the benefits of private higher education and improves the academics of member schools. It offers the CIC Tuition Exchange Program, or CIC-TEP, open to CIC member schools. If they choose to participate, these schools must have a limited number of CIC-TEP openings for eligible students, and students do not pay any tuition. Eligibility includes being a full-time employee at a CIC member school or the family member of a full-time employee of a CIC member school.

Tuition Exchange

The Tuition Exchange is a scholarship program available to individuals wishing to enroll at a member institution. Eligibility requires being an employee of a member institution or their dependents (i.e., spouse, partner, or children). Exact eligibility requirements depend on the specific rules and policies of the individual’s employer. For example, qualification as an employee varies among member schools. The application process and criteria for awarding a Tuition Exchange scholarship are also up to the member school. Scholarships are equal to the tuition or the “annual set rate,” which varies each year. For, tuition for the 2021-2022 school year will be $39,000).

FACHEX

FACHEX (Faculty, Administrator, and Staff Children Exchange Program) is a tuition exchange scholarship program administered by the Tuition Exchange. Both use the same EZ Application and award scholarships equal the cost of tuition. FACHEX differs is only available to Jesuit schools, though, and only the children of faculty and staff are eligible. The exact eligibility requirements depend on each school’s admissions policies and standards, but a general requirement is being a full-time undergraduate student.

General university employee tuition assistance programs

As a benefit of working for a college or university, employees may be eligible for tuition assistance. Often, it allows the employee or one of their dependents to enroll in a program with their employer at a reduced cost. In some cases, it allows the eligible individual to receive these tuition benefits at member schools, such as institutions that are part of the same state system. Whatever the benefits and terms for participation, they vary from school to school.

Next Steps for Taking Advantage of Tuition Exchange

Now that you have a general idea of the kind of tuition exchange programs available and how to make use of one, it’s time to start applying. Even though the exact process depends on several variables, there are still concrete steps you must take no matter how you end up using the tuition discount from an exchange or reciprocity agreement.

Step 1: Decide What You Want to Study

Eligibility in most tuition exchanges relies heavily on your chosen area of study. In some exchanges, you’re only eligible if your chosen field of study isn’t offered in your home state. In other exchanges, the limitation lies with whether the hosting school offers the tuition exchange benefit with your program of interest.

Step 2: Decide Where You Want to Study:

This step determines where – that is, what schools or states – you must focus your program. In many exchanges, you must reside in a state that’s a member of the tuition exchange you want to use. You’ll also have to find a school that’s a part of the exchange.

Step 3: Research the Applicable Tuition Exchange

Now that you know what and where you wish to study, you now know what tuition exchange to use. You can now go to that exchange’s website and learn about its requirements. Keep in mind that specific requirements largely depend on the school you want to attend.

Step 4: Contact the Appropriate Tuition Exchange Representative

Depending on the school and the exchange, contact your prospective school’s tuition official for an explanation of the requirements and to walk you through the process. In some exchanges, there may be a representative you must work with to confirm your eligibility. Once you’re eligible for the special tuition rate, apply to your chosen school through the regular, or sometimes slightly modified, admissions process.

Step 5: Start the Application Process

After talking with your school and/or tuition exchange representative, you’ll know the steps needed to apply for your discount and acceptance into your school and program of choice. If there are any other financial aid sources you want to take advantage of, this is also the time to fill out those forms or applications.