Qualifying for In-State Tuition in Colorado

Qualifying for In-State Tuition at Colorado Colleges and Universities

In recent years, tuition costs at U.S. colleges and universities have risen at a rate that has significantly outpaced the rate of inflation. This rising cost of tuition, coupled with a down economy, has caused those tasked with footing the bill for college to continue to look for advantages and opportunities to pay less for a quality education.

At the University of Colorado at Boulder, non-resident tuition can be almost three times higher than resident tuition. At other public Colorado colleges and universities, non-resident tuition costs can be as much as five times higher. This significant cost difference prompts many students and parents who pay out-of-state tuition at Colorado schools to wonder whether they may qualify for in-state tuition. This article examines the requirements necessary to qualify as an in-state student for tuition classification purposes at Colorado state colleges and universities.

In general, in-state tuition status requires domicile in the state of Colorado for a full year. The domicile period must have started more than one year earlier than the first day of classes for which the student wishes to be recognized as an in-state resident. For many undergraduate students, the qualifying domicile is that of the student’s parents. However if a student meets the definition of a “qualified person,” the analysis focuses on the student’s place of domicile. A “qualified person” is at least 22 years old, or is married, emancipated, or a graduate student.

Domicile is defined as a person’s true, fixed, and permanent home and place of habitation. It is the place where the person intends to remain and to which they expect to return when they leave the state, without intending to establish a new domicile elsewhere. Intent to remain in the state is a key characteristic when determining place of domicile. However, Colorado state law provides that no person may establish domicile solely for the purpose of changing a student’s tuition classification.

The criteria considered when determining whether sufficient evidence of domicile exists for the subject applicant includes:

  • Whether the applicant has obtained a Colorado driver’s license or ID;
  • Payment of Colorado state income taxes;
  • Vehicle registration;
  • Voter registration;
  • Off-campus employment;
  • Ownership of Colorado real estate;
  • Residence in Colorado during periods of non-enrollment in classes;
  • Graduation from a Colorado high school;
  • Acceptance of future employment in Colorado;
  • Any other factor specific to the individual which tends to establish the intent to make Colorado a permanent home.

Factors that cut against a determination of Colorado domicile include:

  • Failure to pay Colorado state income taxes;
  • The applicant’s return to their former state of residence;
  • Maintenance of a home in another state;
  • Prolonged absences from Colorado;
  • Failure to comply with mandatory duties of permanent Colorado residents, such as obtaining a Colorado driver’s license and registering a vehicle.

Emancipation occurs when parents surrender the right to the care and custody of a child, and are therefore under no further duty to support the minor. Emancipation occurs as a matter of law when a child reaches the age of 22, is married, or enters military service. Determination of a student’s emancipation requires either an affidavit by the student’s parents stating that they have relinquished any claim or right to the care, custody or duty to support the child, or conclusive evidence that the parents have failed to provide financial support to the student, coupled with evidence that the student is independently able to meet their own financial obligations, including costs of education. We have successfully advocated for students under age 22 to be considered emancipated for tuition classification purposes where those students paid for their education from trust, estate, insurance or other settlement proceeds. Other exceptions may exist that allow for faster determination of residency, particularly for students who have served in the military.

If a student believes that they should qualify for in-state tuition classification, they must petition the college or university to be designated as a Colorado resident. The petition requires documentation and verification of the evidence provided, as well as an explanation as to why the student regards Colorado as their permanent home. Although the deadline to submit residency petitions may be less than a month before classes start, petitions typically may be submitted as early as two to three months before the deadline. At the University of Colorado, for instance, review and approval may take six to eight weeks. We therefore recommend that applicants start the residency petition process as early as possible, especially since the petition can be difficult to navigate and requires a substantial amount of information and documentation.

Our firm has successfully assisted a number of families in petitioning for in-state tuition classification at colleges and universities in Colorado. Please contact me if you have questions about whether you qualify for in-state tuition or would like our assistance with the in-state tuition classification petition.

Mike Smeenk is an attorney in the law firm of Frascona, Joiner, Goodman and Greenstein, P.C., a Colorado law firm. His practice areas includeEstate Planning, Trust and Estate Administration, Real Estate, and Corporations. Contact Mike Smeenk.

Disclaimer — Content is general information only. Information is not provided as advice for a specific matter, nor does its publication create an attorney-client relationship. Laws vary from one state to another. For legal advice on a specific matter, consult an attorney.

MICHAEL A. SMEENK