Paying for College: 5 Steps to Save BIG

“How am I going to pay for this? Is it worth it?”

If you’re a prospective college student or even a parent or family member of one, you may have asked yourself this question. It’s a good question; college is more expensive than it’s ever been, making the college search process taxing—emotionally and financially—for students. Fortunately, there are many tools available to help you determine what your best financial fit could be and directly save you money on tuition. One such tool available across most of the United States are regional tuition savings programs.

What is a Regional Tuition Savings Program? 

Some background: You may be familiar with terms like “in-state tuition” (i.e., the tuition rate paid by students studying at a public college or university in their state of residence) and “out-of-state tuition” (i.e., the tuition rate paid by students studying at a public university not in their state of residence). If you knew that already, you likely also know that out-of-state tuition can be significantly more expensive than in-state—sometimes two or three times more.

That fact makes regional tuition savings programs so important to you. These programs are agreements between states to reduce the out-of-state tuition rate. By taking advantage of discounts, you could substantially reduce the amount of money you may need to borrow to cover the college cost. With student loan debt in the U.S. on the rise, every dollar saved makes a difference for your future.

In most cases, these agreements may have specific eligibility requirements, like offering the discount to residents of nearby or directly adjacent states, or discounting tuition for specific academic programs or majors at the university. Usually, the university requires students to maintain residency in their home state while they complete their degree. However, because these savings are discounts and not scholarships, they usually require no additional application nor specific grades or test score minimums, making them widely accessible.

Tuition Break: Tuition Savings in New England 

I represent one such savings program: Tuition Break, which is operated by the New England

Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) and serves residents of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont who wish to study at any of our region’s public institutions outside of their home state. Now in our 65th year, we’ve saved New England residents billions of dollars in tuition and through an average annual discount of $9,000. Our discount is available to students seeking to study over 2,500 associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees and certificates.

Like all regional savings programs, Tuition Break has eligibility requirements, but we’ve made considerable effort over the last several years to expand our program offerings to make higher education in New England more affordable. We currently classify our programs within two eligibility categories:

  • Specialized Programs: Academic majors for which the Tuition Break rate is available to students who reside in New England states where this program is not available at a public university. As the name suggests, these programs are often highly specialized or unique, like Human Dimensions of Climate Change at the University of Maine or Homeland Security at the University of New Hampshire.
  • Flexible Programs: Academic majors for which the Tuition Break rate is available to all out-of-state residents of New England, regardless of whether the program is available in their home state. As of this fall 2023, over 25% of our partner colleges will offer every one of their academic programs as Flexible, making the discount accessible to all New England residents.

How do I Access Tuition Savings in my Region? 

But what if you don’t live in New England? The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) is just one entity doing this work; we’re fortunate enough to have peer organizations across the country that operate similar programs. While each program is different and eligibility requirements will vary across the country, the following roadmap will be a helpful guide for you to determine if these savings opportunities are right for you:

Step 1:

Determine if your home state is a member of a regional tuition savings program. Fortunately, most states across the country participate in them:

Northeast (New England): New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE)

South: Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)

Midwest: Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC)

West: Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education (WICHE)

Step 2:

Research the eligibility requirements for tuition savings. Consider especially the following questions:

  • “What colleges and universities participate?”
  • “Do I have to enroll in a specific major to receive this discount? If so, is my intended major(s)/degree/certificate eligible for reduced tuition?”
  • “Are there any additional requirements that are required by the college or university for me to receive the discount?”

Step 3:

Submit your admission application(s) to the colleges in which you’re interested. If they participate in a tuition savings program, be sure to request more information about the savings from the admission office.

Step 4:

Consider the entire cost of attendance. Tuition is usually the largest portion of the cost of college and striving to lower will be helpful to you; however, it is still important to research all the fees, housing and other figures that add up to the cost of attendance at each college or university to determine which is right for you.

Step 5:

Ask questions and engage!

This last step is the most important; tuition savings are incredible opportunities to save you or your student money on their higher education, and they also can be nuanced and challenging to understand when determining your eligibility. As you do your research into these programs, never hesitate to reach out to your admissions counselor at the colleges you’re exploring and to people like me who oversee these programs. We’re happy to help you determine the best steps on your college journey and support your future success.

Jonathan Gowin is the Director of Tuition Break, the Regional Student Program, at the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) in Boston, MA. His experience as a first-generation, Pell-eligible student galvanizes his passion for college affordability and access. You may contact him at tuitionbreak@nebhe.org with any specific questions about Tuition Break, or general questions about tuition savings or college affordability.