WUE – An Option to Make College More Affordable

It seems a day does not go by without our local or national news media reporting on concerns regarding college affordability. Last year, total national student loan obligations flew past one trillion dollars with no end in sight (yes that’s $1,000,000,000,000). The one-year total cost at a four-year college can easily exceed $60,000 – with those numbers, it is unfortunate that it takes at least four years to graduate with a Bachelors Degree.

A little known West Coast program called WUE aims to put a small dent in this unprecedented crisis. With an acronym like WUE, and overseen by WICHE, it is no wonder few people outside the direct world of college finance know much about the program. WUE stands for the “Western Undergraduate Exchange”, and WICHE, out of Boulder, Colorado, stands for “Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education”.

The WUE is a cooperative program that allows students in fifteen Western states, along with the Northern Mariana Islands, to enroll in “participating” public colleges outside their home state at significantly reduced tuition levels. Over 150 colleges participate, including both 2-year and 4-year schools. The allowable tuition level cannot exceed 150% of the rate for in-state students. For example, a student from a Bend high school who wishes to attend college in Arizona can select from seven Arizona four-year universities, including the University of Arizona and Arizona State, and pay close to one-half what other out-of-state students might pay. Fortunately, each year a few students from Central Oregon schools do take advantage of WUE, but many more could benefit and significantly reduce college costs.

Of course, like all programs there are few stipulations that impact students wishing to take advantage of WUE. For instance, not all Western public schools participate. In California, for example, none of the University of California universities participate, except for Cal-Merced, but all the schools in the California State system, except for Cal Poly SLO, are participants. Universities that attract Central Oregon students, such as Cal State Chico, Sacramento and Humboldt offer the WUE. Many are surprised that schools like University of Hawaii, Boise State, Montana State, University of Nevada-Reno, and the University of Utah are participants. Often, participating colleges may establish specific eligibility restrictions for their most selective and popular programs. For instance, the nursing program at a particular university may be excluded from the WUE program. However, at the University of Utah, the most popular majors may require higher test scores or GPA to be admitted. Check the WUE or individual school website for specific eligibility requirements. (http://wue.wiche.edu) Although the WUE is available to the qualifying student for all four years, it is important to remember that each college may require a student to maintain a certain GPA to retain and renew the WUE each year.

Our local students should not overlook the WUE as a potential opportunity to reduce the financial burden of attending college. Take a look at WUE; it may meet your needs!