Shrink West Coast College Tuition with the Western Undergraduate Exchange

It’s easy to adore the west coast, and colleges are a fundamental reason why students hold this section of the US so dearly to their hearts.  If you’re thinking “I’m going to a college on the western coast” with absolute certainty, you need to fund this endeavor.  How?

One of the best places to start is an initiative by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) called the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE).

WICHE operates as a non-profit facility and essentially acts as an informational hub, conveying data or “resource sharing” between educators, governors, and policymakers.  They pride themselves as an organization concentrated exclusively on higher education.

It’s concentrated in 15 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.  As a resident of one of those states, you’re eligible to receive reduced tuition of 150% at over 150 participants.

Wondering if your dream school is part of this program?  A full list can be found here.  You may also use their search feature, or you can filter by state.

You simply need to indicate on your admission form to the participating institution that you’d like consideration for the WUE tuition rate.

While it isn’t automatically given to all students, be sure to apply early.  A number of colleges hand out a limited amount of awards, and you wouldn’t want to miss your window of opportunity.

Go to College in the West for Less!

“I can afford to study out-of-state? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Students — and their parents who are bankrolling their kids’ education — are often amazed to learn that they can afford an undergraduate education outside of their home state, thanks the Western Undergraduate Exchange that’s been around for a quarter of a century. Some say it’s like winning the lottery!

More than 25 years ago, WICHE forged an agreement with its 15 western member states to found the Western Undergraduate Exchange.

What Exactly is the Western Undergraduate Exchange?

WUE is a multi-lateral regional tuition reciprocity agreement whereby a resident of one WICHE member state can go to college at a participating public institution in another WICHE state, and pay 1.5 times the resident tuition of the enrolling institution.

WICHE member states are: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, ND, NM, NV, OR, SD, UT, WA, WY and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

WUE is the biggest program of its kind the nation; a 154 total of institutions — community colleges and universities – participate in the network.

This year alone (2013-14), some 34,000 students saved an estimated $264.7 million by paying the reduced WUE rate, instead of full nonresident tuition.  Individual savings ranges from about $900 up to $13,000 per student, but on average, a student this year is saving about $7,800.

The savings numbers are even more staggering when you look at the historical savings the program has provided for families since the first exchanges began in 1988: western residents have saved an estimated $2.2 billion on some 392,000 tuition bills!

Depending on where you’re from and where you want to enroll, earning your degree may cost about the same and sometimes less than what you would have paid if you had studied in your home state!

Now You’re Wondering: What’s the Catch?

What motivates institutions participate in the Western Undergraduate Exchange? Community colleges and universities like WUE just as much as students and families do.

It helps them achieve their enrollment goals on several levels. The savings can entice students to enroll in difficult-to-fill majors.

They can also use WUE as a merit scholarship, to attract the brightest students in the region, which also boosts their graduation and retention rates.

WUE also helps them diversify their student body; the more regional and ethically diverse their students are, the richer the learning experience for all.

Some institutions also use WUE to attract academically qualified athletes in the region.

Furthermore, some graduates will probably remain in the state where they received their degree, and become part of the local workforce. For growing states, this is a plus!

How to Request Consideration

Prospective students must apply for the WUE discounted rate at the same time they apply for admission.  The WUE rate is never guaranteed. Students must request it and meet the enrolling institution’s requirements. Here are a few simple guidelines to follow:

  1. Make sure your major is eligible for the WUE discount at the WUE institution where you’re applying. Some high demand majors are excluded. To find out, check your dream institution’s WUE profile.
    Remember, if you change to a non-eligible major, the institution will charge you full nonresident tuition.
  2. Read the participating institution’s WUE eligibility requirements (GPA and ACT or SAT scores). Do you qualify? About 20% of WUE institutions use the program as a merit scholarship.
  3. Apply directly to the institution where you want to enroll, and apply as early as possible! Check the institution’s WUE application deadline. An early application will increase your chances if you meet all of the other qualifications where you want to enroll.Some institutions have a limit on the number of WUE discounts that they will offer to new students each fall—you want to fall within that number.
  4. If you’re awarded the WUE discounted tuition rate, be ready to study hard and finish your bachelor’s degree within four years. Most institutions limit the number of semesters that they will give you the discounted rate.Community colleges may also set a two-year limit for full-time students. It’s important to note that WUE is for students who want to complete a full degree; it is not designed for a semester or one year study experience.

For specific questions about admissions requirements, contact the enrolling institution directly.  If you have general questions about the program after reading the WUE FAQ, contact WICHE staff at info-sep@wiche.edu or (303) 541-0270.

The section entitled “Go to College in the West for Less!” was provided by Margo Colalancia, Director of Student Exchanges at WICHE.  We originally spoke with Margo on College Smart Radio and her show aired on April 5th 2014, where she delved into the core aspects and requirements of the WUE.

Learn how Westface College Planning can help you navigate the college planning process from start to finish. Give us a call at (360) 818-7728 or use our contact form. Our workshops and webinars are also a great place to start.

Photo Credit: University of Montana

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