Law Increases Postsecondary Access Through Tuition Reciprocity

In the world of higher education, invisible borders can become insurmountable financial barriers. Let’s say a student living in Columbus, MS is considering several four-year universities. One in-state option would be the University of Mississippi, roughly two hours away or Mississippi State University, more than three hours’ drive from home. Or, just an hour away in Tuscaloosa, AL, he or she could enroll in the University of Alabama. Because of a law enacted in Alabama, out-of-state residents, like someone living just across the border in Columbus, MS., could receive the same in-state tuition rate as an Alabama resident.

The same rules have not applied, however, to an Alabama resident wanting to enroll at a public university in Mississippi. For example, if someone from Tuscaloosa wanted to enroll at the Mississippi University for Women (which, despite its name, is co-educational) in Columbus, she or he would have to pay the out-of-state tuition rate. That’s more than twice Mississippi's in-state tuition rate.

House Bill 1095, signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant, will level the playing field, allowing public universities in Mississippi to charge out-of-state students the same tuition paid by Mississippi residents. With full time tuition costing less than $5,500 per year, Mississippi can tout one of the least expensive higher education systems in the nation.

Under the law, each university in the state is required to develop an enrollment plan. Mississippi Commission of Higher Education Hank Bounds was quoted in a news report saying  the law will particularly help institutions like Delta State University and MUW, which are near state borders but are struggling to meet enrollment goals.

Schools such as these might develop liberal plans, allowing any resident within a certain geographic radius to take advantage of in-state tuition rates.

In other cases, however, where universities are nearly at capacity, such as Ole Miss or MSU, the program might be used to address specific needs, such as to recruit more students for an education major or nursing major with the goal of producing more teachers and nurses for the state.

Extending in-state tuition has the added appeal of making postsecondary education more accessible to residents living out-of-state but within driving distance of public postsecondary institutions. The law, which goes into effect July 1, will save them more than $8,000 per year in tuition.

Tuition Reciprocity, in which states enter into agreements to offer reduced tuition to residents of adjoining states, are becoming more common. Minnesota, for instance, offers in-state tuition to people living in Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, the Canadian province of Manitoba, and on a limited basis with Iowa.