If you’re searching for colleges, you probably already know that in-state tuition rates can make a huge difference. In most cases, taking advantage of in-state rates will provide one of the best pathways to an affordable college education and a reputable degree. But did you know that those very same in-state rates may apply even if you’re planning to pursue an online education? Increasingly, public and state-affiliated colleges and universities are offering online courses and fully online degrees. If you’re considering pursuing an online college degree, or you’re just interested in balancing some of your classroom time with a few online courses, the most affordable option could be in your very own state.
In-state tuition rates are designed to benefit state residents. Whether you’re attending classes on campus or online, that could mean you!
Every state sets aside a certain sum of taxpayers’ money to support its own public higher education system. A portion of this sum is used to offset the costs of tuition and fees for state residents pursuing a higher education at a public or state affiliated school. The result is a fairly dramatic price difference for students attending in-state public schools versus those attending either a public school in a different state, or a private, non-profit university.
U.S. News & World Report notes that the average in-state tuition rate for public universities in 2019-2020 is $10,116. Out-of-state applicants will pay more than twice that rate, enrolling at a cost of $22,577 for the very same educational experience. As for private school students, you’ll be paying an average cost of $36,801 no matter where you go.
If you are considering an online college experience, finding a public school in your state could be the very best way to balance affordability and quality. Fortunately for you, we’ve recently updated our look at higher education across all 50 states, with a focus on the most affordable opportunities in every state and commonwealth.
If you’re in the mood for a road trip, gas up and motor through The 100 Best Colleges & Universities by State 2019.
Otherwise, read on and find out why attending an online college in your state could be your best bet:
In-State Tuition Rates Could Apply to Your Online College
If you plan to attend a regionally-accredited, four-year college, the public system affiliated with your state of residence will usually rank high among your most affordable options. To repeat an important point, tuition rates for in-state residents are less than half the rate charged to out-of-state residents. Equally important and worth repeating—private, non-profit universities and for-profit universities do not offer in-state tuition discounts.
If you’re an online student shopping for a state-affiliated public school, your terms may vary. Some public colleges and universities charge a completely separate tuition rate for online students, regardless of state residency. These rates will vary from one school to the next.
However, there are also many public colleges and universities that make in-state rates available to all eligible students, including those earning a degree online. As with traditional students, online college students must prove residency and meet a certain threshold for the length of this residency. In most cases, that threshold will require that you’ve lived in the state for at least one year.
As you begin your search for a reputable and affordable online college, start with the public schools in your own state. Find out which of these schools offer in-state tuition discounts to online students. You may even find that some schools in your state offer a separate but equally cost-effective tuition rate for online, in-state students.
Get started on your search with a look at The Most Affordable Four-Year College in Each State.
If you’re simply looking for the top online education option in your state, jump to The Best Online College in Each of America’s Fifty States.
Tuition Reciprocity Agreements
In some cases, the phrase “in-state” may be defined somewhat loosely. A number of neighboring states throughout the U.S. maintain tuition reciprocity agreements with one another, allowing students from nearby states to pay the signficantly discounted tuition rate enjoyed by state residents. In some cases, these agreements may be regional, stretching across multiple states.
There are four major regional reciprocity agreements in place:
- New England Board of Higher Education-Tuition Break
- Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education-Western Undergraduate Exchange
- Midwestern Higher Education Compact-Midwest Student Exchange Program
- Southern Regional Education Board-Academic Common Market
If you’re considering attending a public college or university in a nearby state, visit the commission or board that corresponds with your region to find out how recriprocity agreements work. This could be your ticket to an out-of-state experience at an in-state rate. This also means that your options for public colleges and universities offering online education at in-state rates could be more numerous than you realize.
Find out which states participate in the reciprocity agreement for your region. Then dive back into The Best Online College in Each of America’s Fifty States.
Attending Online College in Your State Offers Educational Flexibility
Discounted tuition rates aren’t the only advantage to staying in-state. While online classes provide flexibility and convenience, many students choose to balance these features with access to traditional campus experiences. Some schools may offer you the option of taking a portion of your courses from home and a portion on campus. You might wish to earn your degree fully online but participate in campus life, attend cultural events, and join group study sessions. You may find some schools offering formally structured hybrid education, blending parallel online and traditional learning experiences into a single degree program.
And, as point of fact, some fully online programs may even require a set number of campus visits during the course of a semester. So clearly, it helps to live nearby. You’ll have the option of being a more active and present part of your educational community, which can really enhance the otherwise remote experience of online education.
As long as we’re talking educational flexibility, let’s talk dollars and cents. If your in-state college or university does offer online classes, you could save on traditional student expenses like housing, meal plans, and possibly even physical text-books (which, believe me, can cost an absolute fortune). These savings all add up to an educational experience that gives you the most bang for your buck. As an online student, you’ll likely enjoy an even more affordable experience than your in-state, on-campus classmates.
To learn more, and to find out how a blended education can save you money, check out College Online but Close to Home: Blending Traditional and Online Education.
Community Colleges Count
Just like in-state tuition rate discounts and blended programs, most community colleges do require you to be local. In other words, community college can be a good reason to stay close to home even as you pursue an online degree. In addition to offering an accessible and affordable route to an associate degree, community colleges typically carry a sound guarantee of awarding transferrable credits. In fact, most community colleges have clearly structured agreements with the public four-year schools in their states making credit transfer about as easy as it gets.
This is also a great way of acclimating to online education before taking the more costly and time-consuming plunge into an online bachelor’s degree.
To learn more, check out:
- For-Profit College vs. Community College: Which One Is Right for You?
- The 50 Best Community Colleges in the United States
One of the strongest arguments in favor of attending an in-state public college or university is the number of doors it could open in your own community or region. Even as an online student, your affiliation with a state school will carry greater name recognition with employers in your region.
Here’s a fun fact—the person interviewing you generally doesn’t care whether you attended college online or on campus. It’s far more important that your school is accredited, reputable, and familiar to prospective employers. A public four-year school in your state will check all of those boxes.
It’s also possible that your in-state school will have relationships with a wide range of employers, including locally-headquartered corporations, regional small business associations, state government offices, and state-based public agencies. Your affiliation with a public university in your state could give you access to nearby contacts, mentors, internships, apprenticeships, job openings, and general networking opportunities.
Prepare yourself to make the most of these opportunities with resume tips, interview advice, and more from our Career Counselor.
Naturally, the benefits outlined above only scratch the surface. Staying in-state not only means that you have access to a more affordable and flexible online education. It also means you won’t risk dual allegiance to multiple professional sports teams, you won’t have any confusion about where to register for statewide elections, and your enrollment won’t require a visit to the DMV.
But of course, we understand that it’s really all about quality and affordability. So with that, in the twin American spirits of freedom and convenience, we offer you three distinct ways to leap headfirst into online education across each of these United States.