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Residency a priority for some MU students with non-Missouri origins

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | 11:29 a.m. CDT; updated 11:26 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 19, 2012
MU sophomore Jennifer Birdsall writes a story about "Walk the World: Shoes from Six Continents" for her multimedia journalism course. To avoid paying out-of-state tuition fees to attend the MU School of Journalism, Birdsall was required to get a Missouri driver's license, register to vote in Missouri and earn $2,000.

*MU spokesman Christian Basi said increases in tuition and application fees have not resulted in any decrease in the numbers of applicants and admissions. A sentence implying otherwise has been removed from this article.

COLUMBIA — As a high school senior, Jennifer Birdsall had a plan: After her freshman year in college, she would travel to Africa for six weeks with a group of students to volunteer at an orphanage. 

Birdsall had been thinking about the trip throughout high school. During her first year at MU, she went ahead and bought plane tickets. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

How to apply for residency

To be considered a Missouri resident, students must meet the following requirements and turn in a series of forms to the MU Residency Office.

Rebecca Brandt, associate director of admissions, said the Missouri residence and tuition assessment administrative guidelines have been in place for more than 25 years.

According to the MU Residency Office, students must:

  • Live in Missouri for 12 consecutive months prior to the semester they are seeking in-state residency. They may only be outside Missouri for 14 days between the spring and fall semesters.
  • Prove they earned at least $2,000 of taxable income in Missouri during the 12 months and work in Missouri over the summer even if they earned $2,000 prior to that point.
  • Provide a lease with their name on it, bank records showing transactions in Missouri and weekly payroll stubs.
  • Have a Missouri driver’s license and be registered to vote in Missouri.

Also:

  • Students who are younger than 21 must apply as emancipated minors, meaning they are not claimed as dependents in another state. 
  • Students who gain residency must be continuously enrolled in future semesters. If a student skips either a fall or spring semester, he or she will lose eligibility to pay in-state fees.

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But there was a big snag.

Birdsall, now a sophomore, is from Dallas. When she decided to attend MU, she knew she might have to gain Missouri residency after her first year. To do this, Birdsall would have to fulfill several requirements, including living in the state for 12 consecutive months, make $2,000 in that time and work during the summer.

Her parents had not made a final decision on the matter, though, and Birdsall hoped she would be able to go to Africa as planned. However, when her parents got the bill for her first semester, they told her she had to stay in Missouri and postpone her trip. 

In the face of rising tuition, many out-of-state students at MU are glad to have the option to become Missouri residents and thus pay lower in-state tuition. There has long been a significant difference in what residents and nonresidents pay, and the gap will widen again this summer when new tuition increases take effect.

In February, the UM System Board of Curators voted to increase out-of-state tuition by 7.5 percent and in-state tuition by 3 percent at MU effective this summer.

With this increase, the financial pressure placed on out-of-state students continues to build. Administrators do not see this rise in tuition as a change that will have a large impact on MU enrollment.

Still competitive

Speaking on behalf of MU Office of Admissions, spokesman Christian Basi said the numbers of nonresident applications and admissions have been rising steadily. For the coming fall, MU has more applications from out-of-state students than from Missouri residents, according to data released in February

*Strong academic programs, along with tuition rates that are competitive among similar flagship schools, will continue to draw students from Missouri and beyond, he said.  

Nikki Krawitz, vice president for finance and administration for the University of Missouri System, said its out-of-state tuition rates are still competitive, relative to other public universities in the states surrounding Missouri.

This fall, tuition for an out-of-state undergraduate at MU will be $8,876.40 for a student taking 12 credit hours. The same course load for in-state students will cost $3,232.80. Last fall, MU out-of-state tuition was $8,257.20 for the same number of hours.

Here's how public universities in some bordering states stacked up against MU for an out-of-state student taking 12 credit hours in the spring of this school year, according to the universities' registrar websites:

"We fall in the middle of the pack," Krawitz said, "so we’re still a great buy."

Personal decisions

A tuition increase can be a deciding factor on an individual level on whether to attend MU as an out-of-stater. This was the case for Birdsall's friend Micaela Rosinski.

Rosinski, also from Dallas, accompanied Birdsall on their first tour to MU. But when Rosinski saw what out-of-state tuition would cost, she decided MU was not an option for her. 

"She knew she couldn't afford that," Birdsall said, "and if it was much higher, I don't know if my parents would have let me go or not."

But then there's the residency option. About 40 percent of out-of-state students who graduate from MU gain residency at some point in their college careers, according to MU's Office of Institutional Research.

For Birdsall, the hardest part of the process was finding a job that would give her enough hours to earn the $2,000 of taxable income required. She had to work full time at the MU Bookstore over winter break and two jobs over the summer to make enough money. 

Birdsall said the other requirements to gain residency, including getting a Missouri driver's license and registering to vote, were easy to complete. Even so, she was disappointed that she had to delay her trip to Africa to stay in the state. 

Freshman Erin Burris also sees giving up a summer as a sacrifice. Burris plans to stay in Columbia this summer to gain residency. 

"I think the summer after freshman year is important because after that, you start to do internships and stuff," Burris said. "It kind of felt like it was my last chance to be home and I don’t get to be home, but I think it’ll be worth it."

She plans to major in journalism, as do three in 10 out-of-state freshmen who attend MU, according to the MU Division of Enrollment Management. Journalism is the top intended major, followed by business, "undeclared" and biological sciences.

In addition to spending her summer away from home, Burris said she had to have a discussion with her father and his lawyer about whether it was worth it to become an emancipated minor — someone younger than 21 who is not claimed as a dependent by her parents for tax purposes. 

Burris said she would save more money by gaining residency than her parents would save by claiming her.

Even though there are costs, Burris said there also are benefits to staying for the summer. She plans to take a class that will help her get ahead of schedule.

Both Burris and Birdsall said that they didn't think the process of gaining residency was too difficult and that knowing they had that option was a factor in helping them choose which college to attend. 

"I would not be here right now if I wasn’t able to get residency in a year," Birdsall said.


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