Bernadette Russoniello

By Bernadette Russoniello

“You will have to stay in state; we can’t afford for you to leave.” This sentiment echoed in my household growing up and rung through the hall of my high school. Twenty years later, I still hear students, parents and teachers repeating the same conventional wisdom – “It’s cheaper to stay in state.”

While this statement may have been true through the early 2000s, the State of Arizona has nearly eliminated all funding and support to state universities, and tuition costs have risen by 500 percent the past 20 years. The average cost of resident tuition at Arizona universities averages over $10,000 per year.

Thanks to cooperative programs with neighboring states and the Western Undergraduate Exchange program sponsored by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, students can look out of state, and even save money.

New Mexico State University in Las Cruces offers Arizona residents in-state tuition to their school. With tuition at $7,000, NMSU provides an affordable option only a five-hour drive away. Additionally, NMSU has more generous admissions requirements at a 2.75 GPA or better and no foreign language requirement.

The Western Undergraduate Exchange program, known as WUE, also provides significant discounts on out-of-state tuition. Students can attend California State Universities for $8,208. Looking for a change of climate? Students can attend Montana State University – Northern for $5,257 or University of Wyoming for $5,580. Universities in Utah range from $6,155 to $8,712. You could even go to University of Alaska, Anchorage or University of Hawaii, Hilo for $8,640 and $10,800, respectively. Universities in Oregon and Washington weigh in at only slightly higher costs than our Arizona options, $9,855 to $13,946.

Even private and competitive universities offer support many parents and students may not be aware of. Grand Canyon University, a private, nonprofit, Christian university in Phoenix, charges $16,000 per year for tuition, but the housing and meal costs are nearly half our state universities, making their total cost competitive. GCU also offers significant scholarships, based on GPA or test scores, whichever is best. All Maricopa High School graduates are eligible to earn the Grand Canyon Award, a $1,000 instant scholarship.

Competitive colleges and universities, from Ivy League to small, liberal arts school, often have endowments and scholarship programs that provide 100 percent financial assistance to applicants. This promise guarantees students will only have to pay their families’ Expected Family Contribution or EFC as identified on their FAFSA; the university will cover the rest.

The bottom line? While costs are certainly an important factor in determining the best college fit, don’t limit your options until you’ve explored the opportunities.


Bernadette Russoniello is the Career and College coordinator at Maricopa High School. She can be reached at

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.


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