With college tuition increasingly out of reach for many families, a little-used program that lets South Carolina residents attend some out-of-state schools while paying in-state rates is worth knowing about.

This isn't a program for everyone - it's available only for particular degree programs at certain schools in Southern states - but for those whose educational goals match up with the offerings, it could be a big money-saver.

For example, a South Carolina resident could pursue a degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Tennessee at the in-state rate of $11,194, instead of the $29,684 out-of-state rate. Or how about a degree in civil and infrastructure engineering at George Mason University in Virginia for $9,908 a year instead of the $28,592?

As of January, there were 338 approved degrees available to South Carolina residents, from bachelor's degrees to Ph.D.s, at institutions in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. North Carolina no longer participates.

The tuition-and-fee costs, which don't include room, board or books, are lower than in-state rates at some South Carolina institutions. However, S.C. residents who go to college in other states are ineligible for the Palmetto Fellows, LIFE and HOPE scholarships.

So how does this work?

Participating states and institutions are part of the Academic Common Market, an initiative aimed at making degree programs available at in-state rates to students whose own state institutions don't offer the same degree. The criteria is based upon substantial differences in coursework and degree requirements.

To take advantage of the ACM program, an S.C. resident must get accepted to the program they are interested in, and then submit the acceptance letter and a notarized form asking South Carolina to certify that they are a resident. That's it.

You can find the residency form, but little else about the program, on the S.C. Commission on Higher Education's website, www.che.sc.gov. Some states provide comprehensive information about the program, including lists of approved degrees available, while S.C. refers visitors to the Southern Regional Education Board website, sreb.org, to search for available programs.

To make things a little easier, I took 10 minutes and put together a spreadsheet showing all the degrees available to South Carolina residents as of Jan. 22. If you're reading online, you'll find it right here. Otherwise, send me an email at dslade@postandcourier.com and I'll send you the list.

Many of the degree offerings are post-graduate degrees, and two participating states, Florida and Texas, offer only post-graduate degrees through ACM.

Some schools, such as Auburn, only make ACM programs available to juniors and seniors.

The latest report shows that as of the fall 2012 semester, there were 583 out-of-state students studying in South Carolina through the ACM program, with more than 60 percent of them pursuing bachelor's degrees in marine science at Coastal Carolina University.

South Carolina certified 122 residents to participate in the ACM program in 2012, and does not know how many of them enrolled.

South Carolina additionally has contracts for a limited number of seats, at in-state rates, in veterinary and optometry programs. The veterinary program is available at Tuskegee University, the University of Georgia and Mississippi State University.

The optometry program - well, this is what I mean when I bemoan the quality of South Carolina's website. The S.C. Commission on Higher Education's website says the state's contract provides for a "specified numbers of places for Stateresidents in two schools of optometry, Southern College of Optometry (TN) andthe in ."

So, there you go.

The ACM program isn't for everyone, but if it suits your needs, you could pay less than half the out-of-state tuition by participating.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.