Students work for state residency to avoid out-of-state tuition fees

Changing residency status involves many often difficult steps, but can save a student more than $40,000 throughout a four-year college career.

While many students from other states choose to accept their out-of-state status during their college years, some make the effort to establish Alabama residency.

"I chose to do it because we couldn't afford out-of-state (tuition), and I wanted to go to Auburn, so my parents agreed to pay one year of out-of-state, and then I did it my second year, my sophomore year," said Courtney Cooper, senior in social work.

The process of establishing in-state residency takes one year, said Susan Marsh, residency adviser.

"What they have to do is have a full-time job for at least 12 consecutive months," Marsh said. "They have to file an Alabama income tax return, and during that time they cannot be a full-time student. If they're undergraduate, they can take up to nine hours per semester. But they do not have to go to school."

A full-time job is the equivalent of working at minimum wage for at least 40 hours per week, Marsh said.

Individuals must also undergo other processes, such as registering their vehicle, obtaining an Alabama driver's license and switching to an in-state bank.

"Really, the basic thing that we're looking for is intent," Marsh said. "Are you here to primarily go to school, or are you here to establish residency? That is the absolute first thing we look at--the intent."

Students must be able to show their first intent is not to attend school, but to become an Alabama resident.

"That's the reasoning behind the hours that they take," Marsh said. "If they're a full-time student, then obviously their intent for being in the state of Alabama is to go to school."

Cooper said she took the maximum nine hours per semester and worked full time at Milestones Learning Center while she was earning her residency.

"Mainly the hardest thing was actually having a social life because when I wasn't at work I was studying because I took nine hours, so that was probably the worst part about it," Cooper said. "I couldn't hang out with people as much."

There are other consequences of the process students should take into consideration before making the attempt, Marsh said.

"I think one of the things--their parents can no longer claim them as a dependent," Marsh said. "And we collect documentation when they file their appeal, and they have to prove that their parents are no longer claiming them."

Until January 2011, with the enforcement of health care reform, this meant students could lose their health insurance along with their status as a full-time student.

Jo Saint, junior in zoology, went without insurance for seven months when he began the process approximately nine months ago.

"For the first semester of this, since I was a dependent and I wasn't taking full-time classes, I lost all health insurance," Saint said. "Since I wasn't working one full-time job, but two jobs that added together to be full time, I had no health insurance for about seven months."

Saint said he was returned to his parents' insurance plan in January when the health care reform took effect.

Despite the hardships, Saint said he was determined to prove to everyone that he would do whatever it took to stay at Auburn.

"Since I transferred to Auburn from 'Westga' (the University of West Georgia), I had to fight to get here, and now I have to fight to stay here," Saint said. "It's not proving it just to myself, I'm proving it to everyone else that I do love Auburn, that I do want to be here. I mean, my job, when you look at my actual schedule, I work from 2 in the afternoon to 2:30, 3 in the morning most days.

"If that's not enough proof of what I want, I don't know what is."

Saint said he does not take any part-time classes because he cannot afford them on out-of-state tuition.

Instead, he works two jobs, one as a special education assistant at an elementary school and the other at Caribou Coffee in the University library.

Saint said his advice to students thinking about transferring their residency is to make sure they can do it first.

"It's not just make sure that you are physically capable of taking a year off and just working, make sure that you have a job," Saint said. "Make sure that you have at least a job or multiple jobs like I did that adds up to full-time work because it's a big deal."

At the end of his 12 months, Saint will present his case to Auburn's residency committee in order to be approved for in-state residency.

"We have a residency committee that meets three times a year," Marsh said. "There are five voting members, and they're from different parts of the campus."

The committee meets specifically to review student cases, Marsh said.

If students have not adhered exactly to the requirements given them, they will not be able to obtain residency.

"There's a Code of Alabama that comes out of Montgomery, and all colleges and universities are to adhere to the code," Marsh said. "So that's what we base our requirements on."

Cooper said she was able to fax her information to the committee without having to physically go before it.

Because she followed all the requirements in the code, she was able to obtain her residency without problem.

"I think that if you really, really want to go to school, and you can't afford it, then I would recommend it," Cooper said. "But if there's another school that you could go to that you think you would like just as much that you would not have to go out of state, I would do it."

Residency transfer is a huge commitment.

Students who are considering transferring their residency can meet with Marsh on the third floor of Mary Martin Hall.

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