August 10, 2010

Out-of-state students: Residency determinations mean big bucks for state universities

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By Megan Poinski

Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Determining how many of the 148,000 students at Maryland’s public universities can be counted as non-residents is worth more than $100 million to the University System of Maryland.

Of those full- and part-time students, about 34,000 are not Maryland residents and pay two to three times as much in tuition, according to university data.

At the system’s two largest campuses — the University of Maryland College Park and Towson University — where the majority of out-of-state undergraduates go (about 9,200), these students pay $65 million more in tuition than they would if they came from Maryland.

Figuring out who is and who isn’t a Maryland resident is an important financial mission for university admissions officers and registrars. In the past year, legislative auditors have found significant problems with how both Towson and Coppin State universities determine residency status.

System administrators are doing a follow-up review at these two universities. On the whole, the other universities adhere to the Board of Regents statewide policy and errors are few and far between, said Teri Hollander, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Auditors cite problems at Coppin, Towson

Despite the arduous applications for residency, legislative auditors issued reports in the past year finding problems with making proper determinations at Coppin State and Towson universities.

In the case of Towson, auditors found that there was no documentation to support the residency determination of four of 24 resident students who had primary addresses outside of the state.

Auditors found that Coppin State did not always ask for documentation to support residency determinations. Out of 15 in-state Coppin students that had primary addresses in other states, there was no documentation to determine why seven of them were classified as residents.

Both Towson and Coppin State agreed that they had systemic problems and vowed to correct them.

In previous audits at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Salisbury, auditors have also been critical of the amount of independent review given to decisions on residency status.

When problems are pointed out by audits, USM Associate Vice Chancellor Teri Hollander said that the university system itself starts investigating. Four months after the audit, the central USM office asks the individual universities for status reports on the changes requested by the auditors. These status reports, which are completed within a month and a half, are given to the Board of Regents Audit Committee. This committee assesses whether the necessary changes have been made.

Hollander said the regents’ committee is still reviewing Towson’s status report. Coppin State’s report will not be requested until later this year.

The university system leaves it up to individual campuses to make sure that their residency determinations are correct. Legislative auditors pay close attention to the process in their review of each institution every three years, and they have not found the kind of systemic problems that they did at Towson and Coppin.

“There could be a loss of a great amount of money,” said Christopher Tkacik, university counsel at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. As the campus classification officer, Tkacik reviews residency determinations, as well as petitions by out-of-state students to be considered Maryland residents.

“We are charged with making sure state resources are used in the appropriate and best manner,” Tkacik said. “Maryland residents deserve the best resources of the state. If they are not residents of Maryland, they should have to pay more tuition.”

How is residency determined?

The state’s public university application devotes a section to questions to determine residency. Each USM school utilizes a similar format and similar questions. Applicants who do not wish to be considered residents can to skip the section.

The Frostburg State admissions application, for example, asks a battery of questions about where applicants – and others they may be dependent on, such as parents or guardians – live and pay taxes. One question asks if the applicant is in Maryland primarily to attend a university. Other questions ask where an applicant’s possessions are, if he or she has a Maryland driver’s license and is registered to vote in Maryland, and whether he or she has been paying state taxes on any income.

Frostburg admissions director Trisha Gregory said that the answers to the residency questions are reviewed by staff along with the full application. These answers, as well as documents like high school transcripts, are considered together to make an initial residency determination.

Who is a resident?

In general, a resident is a person who has lived in Maryland for at least a year. Gregory said that Frostburg takes a close look at high school transcripts – which should be from Maryland schools if the applicant is going to qualify as a resident. Generally, a Maryland resident will have an in-state driver’s license, a vehicle registered in the state, and is registered to vote here.

Immigration status also plays a role in making a residency determination, UMBC’s Tkacik said. According to the regents’ policy, Maryland residents don’t have to be U.S. citizens, but they do need to be legally living in Maryland. An illegal immigrant or a person with a student visa would not be able to qualify as a state resident.

“We look at every single thing,” Tkacik said. “If a question goes unanswered, or if they left something blank, we will … let (students) know that they need to answer it.”

At Frostburg State, if an applicant leaves a vital residency question blank, Gregory said he or she is automatically classified as out-of-state.

Admissions officers will then determine whether the students they admit are truly Maryland residents. Applicants hear about their status at the same time they are informed of their admission.

Changing status

If a student does not agree with the determination, he or she can appeal.

Residency change petitions are much more intensive than the forms filled out with applications. The University of Maryland College Park has a nine-page form to be filled out to change residency.

This form requires students to write at least one essay and provide detailed documentation regarding income and expenses. Students are also required to submit copious supporting documents. Among the items that must be submitted are canceled rent or mortgage checks – to prove continuous residency in the state – leases or titles, immigration documents and tax forms.

These petitions are reviewed closely, and give students a chance to explain any mitigating factors, and allow for several appeals, Tkacik said. If a student had an out-of-state driver’s license in order to be covered under a parent’s car insurance policy in Pennsylvania, for example, his residency could be changed.

Tkacik said that he gets about 50 petitions to change residency per semester, and about half are approved.

“We are very conscientious and thoughtful about giving someone residency classification,” he said. “It’s really meant for people who have the intention of making Maryland their home.”

Costs for full-time undergraduate tuition and fees for a semester:

Bowie State: $3,077 in-state; $8,339 out-of-state

Coppin State: $2,773 in-state; $7,373 out-of-state

Frostburg State: $3,452 in-state; $8,475 out-of-state

Salisbury University: $3,454 in-state; $7,702 out-of-state

Towson University: $3,828 in-state; $9,557 out-of-state

University of Baltimore: $3,665 in-state; $8,423 out-of-state

University of Maryland, Baltimore County: $4,586 in-state; $9,554 out-of-state

University of Maryland, College Park: $4,208 in-state; $12,415 out-of-state

University of Maryland, Eastern Shore: $3,153 in-state; $6,873 out-of-state

University of Maryland, University College:** $3,050 in-state; $6,194 out-of-state

*University of Maryland, Baltimore not included because almost all of its programs are graduate-level.

** Tuition and fees at UMUC are charged by the credit hour. These calculations are based on 12 credit hours and do not include fees for cooperative education.