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Are You Overpaying for College Tuition?

money roll tied with ribbonImagine paying college tuition at the out-of-state rate for four years only to find out that you were actually eligible for in-state tuition rates – which are usually at least half the cost – all along.

Infuriating, right?

That’s exactly what happened to three graduates of the State University of New York’s Binghamton University, who went through college paying the out-of-state tuition rate of $36,000, approximately twice as much as in-state student tuition. They are now filing a class action suit against the school requesting a tuition refund.

While it seems that the value of a college education is increasing, some students may be paying even more college tuition than necessary. Are you one of them?

The SUNY Example

Although they weren’t technically New York residents, the SUNY students discovered a certain statute in New York State Education Law, which the school hadn’t informed them of, that would allow them to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

The students claimed residency in another state, however, all three had graduated from a New York high school, had attended that high school for at least two years and had applied to SUNY within five years of graduating.

It remains to be seen whether the lawsuit will succeed and force SUNY to at least partially refund the students’ tuition. However, it has already been suggested that cases like this one – which involves three students from a single university – may be more common than we think.

Special Residency Statutes

Statutes like the one in New York exist in nine other states. Originally, such statutes were designed to accommodate undocumented immigrants who had graduated high school but could not prove state residency status due to the lack of documentation.

However, several of these states, including California and New York, which both have extensive state school systems, revised their statutes to include American citizens in certain situations.

The revised statutes apply to a much larger group of people. For example, if you graduated from high school or received a GED in a state and then moved away before applying to a state school, you may still be eligible for in-state tuition in the state where you got your high school diploma or equivalency.

Are you affected?

Whether or not you think you might be overpaying college tuition, it never hurts to double check. The first stop is your university website — most likely that of the student registrar’s office or student accounts office — which should provide information on residency requirements for in-state tuition.

There is no guarantee that the information on the school’s website is comprehensive, so don’t rely solely on this source. Binghamton only recently started posting information about the statute that inspired the current lawsuit.

Always consult state statutes on residency for more detailed information and possible exceptions to the rule. The state’s official website (often the should provide details. Also check your state’s official education website.

What to do if there’s an issue

You can help yourself avoid overpaying for college and getting yourself into debt by always looking at your tuition statement to double-check that you are being charged the right amount. If you notice a discrepancy, visit your student accounts office and work it out.

Be persistent and act quickly; you don’t want to deal with the situation the SUNY graduates are facing, especially since legal processes are time-consuming and costly.

College is expensive enough as it is. If you suspect that you are overpaying for college tuition, you should make sure to avoid throwing away money unnecessarily.

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