A River in Egypt
January 24, 2012 2:22 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend moved to Northern Virginia (from DC) to attend grad school at George Mason University. She paid out-of-state rates her first two semesters, then after she had lived in the Commonwealth for a year, applied for in-state status - and was denied, because the school judged that she moved to VA specifically for in-state tuition benefits. What now?

She appealed the decision, noting that she holds a job in Virginia, is a member of several community institutions, has many friends in-state, and moved before she actually knew if she had been accepted. The appeal was also denied.

Is there any way out of this bureaucratic Catch-22? It seems as if there is no way to show that she doesn't plan on leaving the state as soon as her degree is completed.
posted by downing street memo to Education (33 answers total)
Response by poster: Oh, worth noting, she is a self-supporting adult, so this isn't a case of undergraduates renting an address then calling themselves residents. She's a bona fide resident of the state according to just about every definition of such I can find.
posted by downing street memo at 2:24 PM on January 24, 2012

That's pretty standard -- I work in public education in California and you basically can't become a resident for tuition purposes as a student, even if you have a job, friends, etc. The Virginia law linked to from the George Mason residency site pretty clearly says that she would have need to live in Virginia for a year prior to the first day of her graduate program to be considered, and I know that's also true in California -- once you start your program, unless you stop for a year to work full time as not-a-student to establish residency, you're out-of-state until graduation. The laws are set up purposefully to avoid students being able to pay in-state tuition after one year. She's almost certainly out of luck.
posted by brainmouse at 2:28 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

my understanding with other state schools is that you need to live in the state and not be enrolled as a student. otherwise, every sophomore would also qualify as "in-state".
posted by cupcake1337 at 2:29 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, I misread it -- she would have had to live there for a year prior to her date of acceptance to the program, not the first day of the program.
posted by brainmouse at 2:29 PM on January 24, 2012

There used to be a guy in Chapel Hill who conducted seminars in how to succeed at this in NC. I think he had been through this as a law student, and had a grudge against the entire process. Also, he was drumming up clients to represent at appeal, by giving these free seminars, no doubt.

Anyway. I was denied, then said what this dude said to say, and was approved. Is there any one like that around George Mason? It'd be worth some money for a legal consultation, given the difference in tuition rates.
posted by thelonius at 2:29 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

This likely won't help, but does she have an in-state driver's license and car registration?
posted by supercres at 2:29 PM on January 24, 2012

Response by poster: Drivers' license yes, car registration, no. She is also registered to vote in Virginia.
posted by downing street memo at 2:31 PM on January 24, 2012

Yeah, Virginia is super-strict about this stuff. You don't count as in-state if you move to the Virginia *in order to become a student*, which you say she did. She should talk with her grad school advisors/administrators, see if there's anything they can do to pull some strings to get her charged at the in-state rate.

Any chance she lived in Virginia before she moved to DC?
posted by mskyle at 2:35 PM on January 24, 2012

My girlfriend moved to Northern Virginia (from DC) to attend grad school

I don't think this is a Catch-22 -- it's exactly how the law is supposed to work. She moved to VA to attend grad school, and thus, does not qualify for in-state tuition.
posted by ellF at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2012 [19 favorites]

I found a less legalese version of those laws. The relevant section is Article 1, section 5:
A. Mere physical presence or residence primarily for educational purposes will not confer domiciliary status. For example, a student who moves to Virginia for the primary purposes of becoming a full-time student is not a Virginia domiciliary, even if the student has been in Virginia for the required one-year period.
As you can see in the other sections, the lack of car registration is a big strike against her, and voter registration is less important than actual voting. The burden is on her to prove that she moved to Virginia for reasons other than school, and that's pretty tricky. A post-graduate job offer in the state is good evidence, but a current job in addition to school isn't.
posted by brainmouse at 2:39 PM on January 24, 2012

At Wisconsin I knew people who moved there for a year to establish residency and then applied for grad school.

Virginia is not strict- it's completely pro forma and exactly what every state (to my understanding) does. Like cupcake 1337 says, otherwise every out of state second year (undergrad or grad) would magically qualify for in-state tuition.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:41 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately this seems to be how it works in many states. My husband finally got in-state tuition here in Texas by, well, by getting married to me. And even then he had to wait a year after we got married, even though he had already been in Texas for two years.
posted by muddgirl at 2:43 PM on January 24, 2012

Did she get her job before moving to Virginia/before starting grad school? That's maybe the only wiggle room for her to prove she arrived in Virginia for reasons other than education (of course, she'd presumably already submitted the application, which undermines that theory), but that's exceedingly doubtful for the reasons others have outlined.

It sounds like Virginia's rules are typical--I knew someone as an undergrad in California who was adopted from overseas as an infant and they demanded the adoption papers before certifying in-state status for someone who had only ever attended school in California. California also has some wiggle room regarding spouses, but it doesn't look like that's the case for Virginia (in case you live in Virginia and you guys wanted to get married for tuition purposes).

On the flip side, I did have a grad school admissions offer saying one was expected to establish residency (they specifically named changing your driver's license) and I can only assume that was because they wanted all their students to apply for in-state tuition so the department could save money, so they must have thought it had a chance of succeeding.
posted by hoyland at 2:46 PM on January 24, 2012

Works this way in Montana too, which is why I got a job and lived there for a year attending school. My guess is she's out of luck.
posted by desjardins at 2:56 PM on January 24, 2012

BEFORE attending school.
posted by desjardins at 2:57 PM on January 24, 2012

Did she grow up in Virginia or graduate from a Virginia high school or attend college in Virginia or have close family in Virginia? Maybe Virginia will care - Ohio seems to care about this stuff. Yay Ohio!
posted by 3FLryan at 3:08 PM on January 24, 2012

I was accepted to (and chose not to attend) a public university in California for my PhD. This is in a department where PhD students receive tuition waivers and a stipend. I was told that I would need to make sure to establish California residency by changing my driver's license, remaining in California for most of the summer following my first year, and so on, because the department was willing to pay one year's worth of out-of-state tuition but not more. So at least based on this anecdotal evidence

This may be because the university in question is one of the best public universities in the US and has a lot of out-of-state students in its PhD programs, so this may be some sort of compromise between the graduate school and whoever defines "out of state". Or I may have been misinformed. I did not attend that university, at least in part because I didn't want to spend that first summer in California.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:10 PM on January 24, 2012

This is standard. Sorry.
posted by deadweightloss at 3:19 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's interesting about California - I'm in Maryland(not a resident) and had an assistant ship that qualified me for in-state tuition for anything over the credits I got with tuition remission. My department paid in-state for the credits.

Depending on how much OPs gf is making at her job minus tuition, etc she might be better off looking for an assistant shop.
posted by fromageball at 3:19 PM on January 24, 2012

madcaptenor - my husband was also told by his department that he would 'have to establish residency'. There are only three ways for an independent adult to establish academic residency in Texas: (a) get a non-student job (no, your graduate fellowship/RA position does not count), (b) buy a house, (c) marry someone who can do either a or b. Turns out one of the 'exciting' things about graduate school is that no individual bureaucracy talks to any other bureaucracy. When my partner was denied residency (the year we got married - again, it took 12 months of marriage to establish his residency), the graduate department simply waived the requirement to establish residency.

It looks to me like buying property in Virginia might be a good indication of 'domicile' for purposes of residency. So I suppose that's an option.
posted by muddgirl at 3:21 PM on January 24, 2012

(b) buy a house

I am laughing hysterically, because the school in question is in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Maybe in Texas...
posted by madcaptenor at 3:26 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

No, it's pretty laughable on a grad school stipend here, too.
posted by muddgirl at 3:30 PM on January 24, 2012

I got in-state tuition in my school despite having lived in the state for less than a year. My initial application was denied but I was accepted on appeal after going before the board who decides these things. This was my argument:

- I'd lived in the state for six months prior to my acceptance and had ostensibly moved there for a job
- I had in-state job opportunities on record post-graduation (if your friend has a serious job or job offer not related to her student status this can work in her favor)
- I had career goals that were strongly oriented around the job I moved to the state for and my post-graduation job opportunities
- I had strong investment in activities outside school that were rooted in my state, specifically the area I moved to
- I had not been supported by my parents for years and had never lived at their current home
- I had a driver's license in my state
- I was registered to vote in that state
- I'd be paying taxes to that state

I think there were some other odds and ends, but that was what worked for me. The point was I really emphasized that I would be living in my state irrespective of my acceptance to my school, and I applied to my school because I was in the area for my job/career interests, I wasn't at my job because I applied to the school.
posted by schroedinger at 3:31 PM on January 24, 2012

It might be a longshot, but I seem to recall something about DC residents sometimes being granted a waiver on some states' in-state requirements, simply to make up for DC's lack of available state schools. Sorry I can't recall any more detail, but it might be worth looking into.
posted by easily confused at 3:34 PM on January 24, 2012

easily confused: you're thinking, I think, of the DC tuition assistance grant -- which supposedly pays, for DC residents, up to $10,000 per year towards the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition to any public college in the United States. (It used to just apply to public colleges in Maryland and Virginia.)

I say "supposedly" because everything I can find through Google eventually invites me to click on broken links.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:41 PM on January 24, 2012

I've shown residency in three different states because I'm old and overeducated. When you can't afford to buy a house in your new state, sometimes it can help to show you have no place to live in your previous state of residence. That is, demonstrate that your immediate family lives elsewhere (copies of rent/mortgage and birth certs) and you've gotten rid of your old place (deposit return info or if you're lucky enough to have sold a place, your selling agreement.)
posted by gingerest at 4:28 PM on January 24, 2012

easily confused: you're thinking, I think, of the DC tuition assistance grant -- which supposedly pays, for DC residents, up to $10,000 per year towards the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition to any public college in the United States. (It used to just apply to public colleges in Maryland and Virginia.)

I say "supposedly" because everything I can find through Google eventually invites me to click on broken links.

DCTAG is for undergrad only.
posted by candyland at 5:47 PM on January 24, 2012

Nthing that this is very standard practice. I moved from Massachusetts to Texas for school and was well aware that I'd be paying out-of-state tuition for my entire time there.
posted by Sal and Richard at 6:48 PM on January 24, 2012

Ohio is one of the more liberal states about this in general. They use this as a selling point at my school when recruiting out-of-state students: Yeah, out-of-state is high, but you only pay it the first year, so you can get away from wherever you started out and pay less for the privilege. But VA is known enough for this that I wasn't even considering going to school there and I'd heard about it.

Are you a VA resident? Because, well, that would give you at least something that could potentially be done if the cost burden is high enough, anyway...
posted by gracedissolved at 7:55 PM on January 24, 2012

If you have enough at stake, you might consider calling Robert Floyd, an attorney who, while a Mason law student, appears to have litigated his residency status to the Virginia Supreme Court (where he ultimately lost).

Even if it's not worth his time to actually represent you, he may give you some brief advice, as I assume he's quite familiar with the mason process.
posted by _Silky_ at 8:49 PM on January 24, 2012

As everyone has said, this is standard. Otherwise, people would only pay out-of-state tuition for one year and then just become residents after their first year so they could pay in-state tuition.

When I was looking at law schools, one school mentioned that students often moved there for school, had their SOs establish residency, and then marry the SOs after a year so they were residents by proxy. So as others have said, that may be a possibility if you've been living in NoVa with her (although you shouldn't get married just to save some tuition, of course).
posted by McPuppington the Third at 9:05 PM on January 24, 2012

I was already in state in grad school (not in Virginia), but the school's graduate research assistant positions had the unadvertised side benefit of qualifying the student for in-state tuition. Maybe there's something like that in her department?
posted by stopgap at 6:13 AM on January 25, 2012

I'm a Virginia resident and took classes at GMU a few years ago ... unless putting grad school on hold for a year and doing something else (non-academic) is an option, there is really nothing to my knowledge that she can do now.

However, if there was some reason besides going to school that caused her to move to VA, then she might be able to make a case for residency. But honestly it's going to be an uphill argument, because as you said in your question, she "moved to Northern Virginia [...] to attend grad school." My guess is that this is going to be pretty transparently the case and it's going to be difficult to convince anyone otherwise, absent some something really compelling that you haven't mentioned. The rules are very specifically designed to keep people in this particular situation paying the out-of-state rates for their entire stay at the school.

And GMU in particular is really picky with this stuff, or at least they seemed like it to me. I had pretty clearly not moved to VA for the purpose of going to school (had a job that I'd been at for six months before I wanted to take a course at GMU, course was related to my job, etc.) and they were still humongous dicks about the whole thing. They really wanted to get me locked in at the out-of-state rate, I think. As a result, I ended up just waiting the full 12 months to make sure there wouldn't be any argument about status before taking a class.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 AM on January 25, 2012

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