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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Midwestern tuition reciprocity, how Big Ten schools could do better

With out-of-state tuition prices rising 8% each year, the average college student who chooses to attend an out of state university graduates with over $30,000 in loan debt. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an out-of-state student will pay upwards of $216,000 for a four year undergraduate degree. Even with this hefty price tag, there are few career areas that offer a quick return on investment. 

Northwestern University boasts the highest tuition for a Big Ten school, but that is largely due to the fact that the school is private. The highest out-of-state tuition rate for a public Big Ten school belongs to the University of Michigan at $72,127 per year. In terms of debt, a student looking to attend the University of Michigan from out-of-state would graduate with a much more daunting student loan debt total.

Simply put, Midwestern residents looking to attend neighboring states’ universities are suffering at the expense of out-of-state tuition — even if they live only a few hours away from the school.

On the surface, university executives could use the guidelines of the Big Ten athletic conference to give in-state tuition reciprocity. Given that all current members of the Big Ten conference are “state-schools,” or public universities, this idea would allow all residents of these states to attend other Big Ten member schools at an in-state tuition rate. 

This reciprocity system is already the case at some Big Ten schools. Minnesota and Wisconsin already have tuition reciprocity set up for their residents where students from either state can attend each other’s out of state university at an extremely discounted rate. Although, this in-state tuition reciprocity may not be a reasonable solution for all Big Ten schools. 

Many Big Ten schools are concerned about reduced tuition prices taking away funding. While this is a legitimate concern, the truth is that a school’s budget is not solely comprised of tuition revenue. For example, the UW-Madison 2019-20 fiscal year budget shows that tuition revenue made up only 20% of the total.  

Reducing the cost of tuition would only affect a small portion of the total budget, and revenue would not be eliminated completely. With more money in students’ pockets because of lower tuition costs, they might be more willing and able to spend their money on other components of the budget, such as Intercollegiate Athletics. 

Instead of full tuition reciprocity for all Big Ten schools, programs like the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) exist to give students the option to not pay as much tuition at neighboring state schools. The program contains a group of Midwestern schools that agree to not charge an out-of-state student more than 150% of the in-state tuition. Most of these schools are from Midwestern states and have NCAA Division II and III athletic programs, with a few maintaining Division I status.  

While other athletic conferences have many schools that are included in the MSEP, the MSEP philosophy should be reinstated with every state that has a school in the Big Ten. This would allow for more Midwestern students to inexpensively attend out-of-state schools. However, all states must agree to follow these tuition rules to make this philosophy effective. 

States like Illinois that have above average in-state tuition costs will be incentivized to lower their in-state tuition to keep more students in the state.  

Although, this could dramatically reduce the revenue generated from high out-of-state tuition. 

To balance this decrease in revenue, albeit a mere fraction of the budget, students from outside of the MSEP range will still have to pay normal, out-of-state tuition rates. 

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Specifically for UW-Madison, merit-based scholarships are not offered to out-of-state students.  At this rate, non-Wisconsinite students are almost guaranteed to pay the full price of $54,000, regardless of any academic achievements. 

By including Big Ten schools in the MSEP, universities will attract more Midwestern out-of-state students who cannot justify paying over $50,000 to study one or two states away from their resident states. 

In fact, evidence has already shown results from lowering out-of-state tuition. In the 2021-22 academic year, only 35% of UW-Madison enrollment came from outside Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa boasts a lucrative out-of-state scholarship program that lowers tuition and brings in 42% out-of-state students to their institution.  

Ultimately, Big Ten schools need to join the smaller schools in the MSEP to lower tuition costs for local Midwest students who seek a larger school experience.  

By allowing out-of-state Midwestern students more freedom and affordability when leaving their home states for school, we can lower student loan debt and allow students to choose schools without the high cost of tuition weighing on the decision. 

Lily Ernandez is a freshman studying Neurobiology and Global Health. Do you believe that all midwestern students should receive reduced out-of-state tuition at Big Ten schools? Send all comments to

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