ST. LOUIS • It was a no-brainer for Joey Laurx.
Stay in Columbia this summer, teach swim lessons, earn some money and boom — tuition costs drop by thousands of dollars.
Actually, by $15,000 — per year.
Laurx is a soon-to-be sophomore at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and an Aurora, Ill., native. But with her new Missouri driver’s license, proof of her off-campus apartment and her summer income, she’s officially a Missouri resident by Mizzou’s standard.
She is one of about 1,500 out-of-state students each year who successfully become in-state residents after meeting a handful of requirements set out by the university.
Gaining in-state residency slashes tuition for an undergraduate from about $26,500 a year to the Missouri rate of $11,000.
That adds up to tens of millions of dollars a year in potential tuition lost — money one might think the school would be alarmed to lose.
But that’s not the case.
The school’s leaders are supportive of efforts by students to gain in-state residency. Without it, they say, many students might not be able to afford to complete their degree on the Columbia campus.
University registrar Brenda Selman said reducing the financial burden can make all of the difference. And having those graduates finish at Mizzou ultimately could help the state.
While they’re living, working, studying and paying taxes here, they’re more likely to build their postgraduate lives in Missouri, too.
She also refutes the misconception that out-of-state students are taking slots at the university that could otherwise go to Missouri natives.
“There’s no cap on the number of Missouri students we take,” said university registrar Brenda Selman. “So for a student from out of state to apply, that doesn’t impact our Missouri residents at all.”
Mizzou is open with students about how to qualify for in-state residency, going as far as to mention the process in campus tours for prospective students. The website for the registrar’s office walks students through the particulars.
Students have to prove they’ve lived in state for a year, they have to earn $2,000 of taxable income and must have a state license, voter registration and car registration if applicable, among a few other requirements.
The issue of in-state residency looms large at Mizzou, where about a third of students — or 11,000 out of 33,000 — are from out of state.
Other public universities in the state have smaller percentages of out-of-state students. They also have varying residency requirements, with the help of some guidance from the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
At UMSL, students must earn $5,000 to earn in-state residency, for example, along with other requirements.
An average of about 125 students per year the last five years have taken advantage of the residency change at UMSL. The school’s numbers are relatively low, and decreasing, because the school has been expanding in-state tuition benefits to more and more counties and students in Illinois.
An average of about 190 students per year at the Missouri University of Science and Technology apply for residency, according to a campus spokesperson. The school doesn’t have a specified income amount that students must earn to qualify.
Many other Missouri schools don’t even track the data on students who seek in-state residency.
The state law that gives some guidance to schools on residency is among the dozens of administrative rules about which the state department is seeking public input through the end of August, amid an ongoing effort from Gov. Eric Greitens to minimize regulations. It’s unclear whether, in that review process, the state might adjust the directives it gives to schools.
Mizzou hasn’t changed its requirements for years, Selman said. It’s become such a common process that students can now apply for residency using an online form.
The $2,000 income mark was picked as a reasonable summer goal since students are typically working lower-wage jobs, sometimes dependent on tips.
Laurx, 19, works at the MizzouRec Complex, the campus gym, teaching swim lessons. She hit her $2,000 income goal with her last paycheck.
She’s only one of a few people from her high school who came to the Columbia campus, but Laurx fell in love during a visit. She’s studying elementary education.
“College is so expensive, and giving up one summer away from home to work isn’t bad,” she said. Her parents might have pushed her a little bit, too. It’s not a small decision for families, since students applying for residency cannot be claimed on their parent’s taxes.
Residency status made the difference for Murphysboro, Ill., resident Austin Helfrich, a rising junior studying industrial engineering.
“If it wasn’t for this, I don’t think I’d be able to afford Mizzou,” he said. He started working at Harpo’s Bar & Grill last summer and hasn’t stopped despite earning residency status last year. Now he’s able to help pay his own tuition as he goes.
Selman said her team hears anecdotal stories all the time about students who couldn’t attend if it wasn’t for the ability to receive in-state tuition as early as their sophomore year.
“It’s not necessarily always a hardship, but like any of us, if there’s a way to save money.”