Paying for college

South Carolina residents can attend some out-of-state colleges at in-state rates through the Academic Common Market program. File/Staff

(Editor's note: There's a more recent version of this column — click here.)

For South Carolina families considering out-of-state colleges, the higher tuition costs that out-of-state students typically face can deliver some real sticker shock.

At public institutions, which receive state funding, rates for out-of-state students are often at least double to triple what in-state students are charged. The good news is, South Carolina residents can pay in-state rates in a number of other states if they are pursuing any of a number of specific degrees.

The Academic Common Market program has been around for years, but it's not widely known or used.

Here's how it works: Many states in what's considered the Southeast — from Delaware to Texas — participate, agreeing that if another participating state college offers a program that's not offering in the home state, then residents of the participating state can enjoy in-state rates for that program.

In some cases, the programs may sound similar to those available in the resident's home state, but they still count if the program of study is at least "50 percent different in curricular content" from the home-state offering.

For example, while there are aerospace engineering degree programs in South Carolina, someone pursuing a bachelor's in aerospace engineering could pay in-state rates at multiple out-of-state colleges through the ACM.

Those who tap into the ACM tuition breaks would still pay the usual costs for room, board and books, and South Carolina residents who go out of state for higher education are ineligible for Palmetto Fellows, LIFE and HOPE scholarships.

Participating states, in addition to South Carolina, are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

North Carolina dropped out of the program several years ago, and Florida and Texas participate only at the graduate degree level. Some undergraduate degree programs, such as at Auburn University and University of Georgia, only offer in-state tuition for junior and senior years, making those programs potential money-saving options for South Carolina transfer students.

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Degree programs on offer range from musical theater to biochemical engineering. There were 184 traditional undergraduate degree programs, 154 graduate degree programs, 34 doctorates and two education specialist programs listed as available to S.C. residents when I checked this week.

So, how do you find out what's available, and apply? You'll need to go online to the Southeastern Regional Education Board's website at www.sreb.org to search for programs. The website is fairly easy to use. 

(NOTE: There's a more recent version of this column. Click here to read it.)

If you find a program you're interested in, here's what you'll need to do next, according to the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education:

"A student must be accepted into the specific program desired on a full-time basis and must complete the South Carolina residency form. When the completed form is returned to this office, a copy of the letter of acceptance into the program from the institution must be attached. If we determine that the student is a state resident on the basis of information submitted, we will write a letter of certification to the student and provide a copy to the appropriate official at the institution. This will qualify the student for a waiver of out-of-state fees."

In one recent year, fewer than 125 South Carolina residents were qualified for an ACM waiver. So, it's not widely used, but it could be a good option for those pursuing particular degree programs not offered in-state.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 and follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com