Tu­ition ex­change



Leav­ing Cal­i­for­nia to go to col­lege was not nec­es­sar­ily an op­tion that Ge­orge Ayala thought was avail­able to him while at­tend­ing high school in Tustin in Or­ange County.

At least, not un­til a Univer­sity of New Mex­ico re­cruiter ex­plained the ben­e­fits of the Western Un­der­grad­u­ate Ex­change pro­gram.

The pro­gram — which is cel­e­brat­ing its 30th aca­demic year — is a multi-lat­eral, re­gional agree­ment-and-tu­ition dis­count­ing pro­gram over­seen by the Boul­der, Colo.-based Western In­ter­state Com­mis­sion for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion. Un­der the pro­gram, a res­i­dent of any of the 15 par­tic­i­pat­ing states may at­tend col­lege in one of those same 15 states as well as the U.S. Ter­ri­to­ries of the Com­mon­wealth of the North­ern Mar­i­ana Is­lands and Guam at a rate of 1½ times — or some­times even less — the col­lege’s in-state-res­i­dent tu­ition rate, says Margo Co­lalan­cia, di­rec­tor for Stu­dent Ex­change for the Com­mis­sion.

“It helps (the states) achieve their en­roll­ment goals on sev­eral lev­els,” she says. “The sav­ings can en­tice non­res­i­dent stu­dents to en­roll in dif­fi­cult-to-fill ma­jors. They can also elect to of­fer the WUE dis­counted

tu­ition to only the most aca­dem­i­cally qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants, to at­tract the bright­est stu­dents in the re­gion, which also boosts their grad­u­a­tion and re­ten­tion rates.”

Such was the case with Ayala, who qual­i­fied for the best dis­count New Mex­ico of­fered.

“That re­ally was one of the de­cid­ing fac­tors,” he says of the de­ci­sion to at­tend the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico.

The pro­gram also helps stu­dents in­ter­min­gle.

“WUE also helps them di­ver­sify their stu­dent body; the more re­gional and eth­ni­cally di­verse their stu­dents are, the richer the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for all,” Co­lalan­cia says. “Some in­sti­tu­tions also use WUE to at­tract aca­dem­i­cally qual­i­fied ath­letes in the re­gion. Fi­nally, some grad­u­ates will prob­a­bly re­main in the state where they re­ceived their de­gree, and become part of the

lo­cal work­force. For states look­ing to grow their work­force, that’s a plus.”

For Ayala, “it all started my sopho­more year of high school,” he says. The re­cruiter “ex­plained all of the ben­e­fits of com­ing to UNM. And that stuck with me, from my sopho­more year of high school. He ex­plained about WUI and WUI-plus, the (grade-point av­er­age) they were look­ing for and the ACT score they were look­ing for.”

Now a New Mex­ico se­nior study­ing fi­nance at the An­der­son School of Busi­ness, Ayala and his fam­ily have saved $16,000 per aca­demic year

un­der UNM’s WUI-plus pro­gram.

“That was a huge fac­tor,” he says of the sav­ings po­ten­tial. “Look­ing at other schools in other states and Cal­i­for­nia, crunch­ing the num­ber all to­gether, it was still cheaper at UNM with hav­ing a meal plan and liv­ing on the cam­pus.”

Ayala was not alone in leav­ing Cal­i­for­nia to study else­where, Co­lalan­cia says.

In the 2016-17 school year, some 17,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans de­cided to leave the state for col­lege un­der the pro­gram, she says, rep­re­sent­ing the big­gest ex­o­dus from any in­di­vid­ual state par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram.

In the last aca­demic year, New Mex­ico sent 650 stu­dents to other states and those stu­dents saved al­most $5 mil­lion or about $7,600 each ver­sus out-of­s­tate tu­ition, Co­lalan­cia says.

Over­all, al­most 39,000 stu­dents par­tic­i­pated last aca­demic year, sav­ing $341.5 mil­lion, she says.

There are 159 two- and four-year col­leges across the par­tic­i­pat­ing states en­rolled in the pro­gram, each of which has its own guide­lines on cri­te­ria for ac­cept­ing stu­dents into the pro­gram, Co­lalan­cia says.

Given its small staff, the com­mis­sion has to rely on high school guid­ance coun­selors and aca­demic ad­vis­ers, as well as re­cruiters like those from UNM, to get the word out about the pro­gram.

From there, the best re­source for stu­dents is the pro­gram web­site: wiche.edu/wue, Co­lalan­cia says.

Re­search­ing which in­sti­tu­tions sup­port the pro­posed ma­jor of the stu­dent is im­por­tant, she says, as well as check­ing the re­quire­ments for high school GPAs and SAT and ACT scores.

“The other thing is ap­ply early,” she says. “Be­cause some in­sti­tu­tions have a cap on the num­ber of dis­counts given out in any par­tic­u­lar year so you want to be in there be­fore they reach their cap. I’d be look­ing at pos­si­bil­i­ties dur­ing the ju­nior year and then over that next sum­mer, I would be look­ing to ap­ply­ing for it.”

One of the great things about the pro­gram, Co­lalan­cia says, is earned aca­demic or ath­letic schol­ar­ships are not af­fected and can even be used by the col­leges as an ad­di­tional en­tice­ment to make the school even more af­ford­able.

Some, but not all, fouryear col­leges tend to cap the tu­ition dis­count at four years, she says, which has the added ben­e­fit of en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to fin­ish their un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree quickly.

“Stu­dents are re­ally mo­ti­vated to fin­ish,” Co­lalan­cia says. “Colorado State Univer­sity did a study and found their four-year com­ple­tion rate is much higher than their res­i­dent stu­dents.”

Ayala, how­ever, is just happy he found out about the pro­gram.

“I prob­a­bly would have stayed in state,” he says. “I was ac­cepted at Cal Fuller­ton so I prob­a­bly would have gone there be­cause it was close by to my house. But I just loved the Al­bu­querque vibe and I loved the ar­chi­tec­ture of the univer­sity. But the num­ber-one rea­son I de­cided to come here was the WUE.”


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