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Program gives college students a break on out-of-state tuition

The little-known Western Undergraduate Exchange offers discounts at public colleges and universities to students from 15 states.

April 22, 2012|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

"It's a great secret that a lot of people don't know about," said Becky Marchant, a counselor at Brea Olinda High school in Brea who is talking it up with her students. Marchant's own daughter turned down San Francisco State, fearing overcrowding there, and is part of the program as a freshman at Northern Arizona. Marchant and other counselors say they expect more Californians will participate if state budget problems make it harder for students to graduate in a timely fashion at UC, Cal State and community colleges here.

The only downside, Marchant said, is that California "is losing some great kids to out of state, and maybe a lot will come back after they graduate, but some will stay."

Recruiters for Southern Oregon University tell California students that they will have no trouble getting classes, unlike in UC and Cal State schools, said Jonathan Chavez Baez, an admission counselor. "Those are great institutions and are having difficult times. And we are not having those at our campus," he said.

This year, 629 Californians were enrolled there in the exchange, about 10% of the student body at the Ashland campus, officials said. The tuition under the program is about $10,000, half the usual out-of-state tuition, and is offered as a scholarship based on grades and test scores.

Northern Arizona University enrolls 2,147 Californians in the program, about 12% of its student body, and attracts them with its relative proximity, mountain setting and an additional promise that whatever tuition freshmen pay will not rise over their four years.

Jane Kuhn, Northern Arizona University's associate vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, said the campus receives benefits beyond the extra revenue. Out-of-staters also "add to the diversity of the student population and often have a positive impact on the overall quality of the student population," she said.

Headed to Northern Arizona is Chris Messina, a senior at Brea Olinda who wants to study political science or communications with the dream of becoming an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Not only does the tuition discount cut costs, he said, it also "gives students the idea that there is more out there than just California."

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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