As well-known public universities grow increasingly selective, students are looking further afield to find the right college. But once you leave the comfortable confines of in-state tuition, those out-of-pockets costs start to climb!

It’s no wonder families are excited to hear about the Western Undergraduate Exchange system, or WUE for short. WUE is an agreement between public universities in the Western states to grant reduced out-of-state tuition to each other’s students. The states which participate in WUE are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

But is WUE really as promising as it sounds? Here are five important things every student needs to know about the WUE system.

Not all schools participate
The list of WUE participants does NOT include many of the best-known universities; those that most students are eager to attend. Here are some schools which do NOT participate in WUE:

  • University of Washington, Seattle
  • University of Oregon
  • Oregon State University
  • University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
  • All of the University of California campuses, except UC Merced

What remains are lower-ranked flagship universities (like University of Wyoming and University of New Mexico) and lesser-known regional universities. Many of these are commuter schools (like Portland State University), and some are in out-of-the-way locations (like Adams State in Alamosa, Colorado). Unfortunately, many of the WUE schools don’t hold too much appeal for a non-local student.

There are exceptions though – students are usually thrilled to learn that University of Hawaii, Manoa offers WUE tuition, as does University of Nevada, Reno and Boise State University. A few of my personal favorites are Western Washington University and Southern Oregon University – hidden “gems” that can be a great fit for the right student.

The full list of participating WUE colleges can be found here.

Not all majors qualify for WUE
Some schools only give WUE tuition to select majors. Not surprisingly, the qualifying majors are often those the school has trouble filling. For example, University of Arizona offers WUE tuition only for the Mining Engineering major. Impacted and popular majors often don’t qualify, like Nursing at Northern Arizona University. Always check for your target major before setting your sights on a WUE school.

There may be minimums to qualify for WUE
Some of the colleges have a strict minimum GPA and/or test score in order to qualify for WUE tuition. For example, at University of Idaho, students must have a 3.2 GPA to qualify for WUE. University of Nevada, Reno, requires a 3.25 minimum GPA, plus 26 minimum ACT or 1240 minimum SAT to qualify.

At others, the WUE rate is actually a competitive scholarship, and students won’t know if they get the WUE rate until after they apply.  An example is Western Washington University, where WUE is highly competitive (past recipients have had a 3.9 GPA on average!) 

WUE is usually renewable for only 4 years
At most participating schools, the WUE rate is renewable for up to 4-years, provided the student meets minimum GPA criteria. Theoretically this shouldn’t be a problem, except that the 4-year graduation rate at some WUE schools is not particularly high – meaning that statistically you are less likely to be done in 4 years.

At Cal Poly, Pomona, the 4-year graduation rate is just 10%, so any student here is likely to face higher tuition in their final year. University of Montana, Missoula, has a 24% 4-year grad rate, and most of the others have similar stats. So, if you are counting on the WUE tuition to make your undergrad degree affordable, it’s wise to check the stats for your target school, or include a 5th year in your budget calculations.

Transfer students may not be eligible for WUE
The WUE rate may not be available to transfer students in some majors – each participating school decides this on a case-by-case basis. So, if you plan to transfer, be sure to check this early in the process.

Where can I find all this information?

The best place to find WUE details all in one place is the WUE page on the WICHE website. Here you will find each participating school, plus a list of eligible majors, an overview of the school and information about qualifying for WUE.

Another great source of specific details is the WUE page on each college’s website. This can usually be found on the financial aid page, in the section devoted to out-of-state scholarships. Or, simply Google “Name of college + WUE.”

Last but not least, check out the book The Savvy Guide to the 4-Year WUE Colleges, which includes insights from local counselors designed to reveal details about a campus that you probably won’t find online.

For those students who do wish to attend school out-of-state, WUE can lead to tremendous savings, and is well worth exploring. WUE is also a great option for students targeting a less common degree that is not offered by their in-state schools. Our consultants can help identify the WUE school that is right for you – contact us to set up a consultation at no charge!