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Zoom University: How Distance Learning May Impact Out-of-State Students’ Abilities to Claim In-State Tuition at Arizona Universities

According to UNESCO, concerns related to COVID-19 led to school closures that impacted nearly 80% of the world’s student population. School closures led many universities to move away from in-person learning towards remote instruction via Zoom and other online platforms. Additionally, in the height of the pandemic, many Arizona universities closed their dorms, which forced students to find other living arrangements.

Because the majority of Arizona university students were no longer required to be physically present in the state to attend classes in 2020, many out-of-state students opted to continue their studies from their “home” states for economic and other pragmatic reasons. However, as universities begin to open, students return to campus, and in-person classes resume, many out-of-state students who intend to apply to change in their residency classification are left to wonder how new realities created by remote learning may ultimately impact their abilities to claim in-state tuition.

The Arizona Board of Regents governs Arizona’s public university system, overseeing Arizona State University, Northern University of Arizona and the University of Arizona. The Board is required by law to establish uniform criterion for determining the residency status of students for tuition purposes. Thus, all three public universities employ the same procedures for determining whether students qualify for in-state and out-of-state tuition.

Pursuant to these procedures, unless students qualify for specific exemptions, they must be physically present in Arizona for twelve consecutive months before they are eligible to petition to change their residency status to pay in-state tuition. Pursuant to the Board’s guidelines, a student’s absence from the state for thirty or more days breaks the “consecutive presence” requirement, and the student is required to present evidence demonstrating they maintained a primary residence in Arizona during their absence.

Thus, out-of-state students who chose to move out of Arizona during the pandemic, even briefly, may face challenges when applying for in-state tuition even if they have otherwise satisfied all other requirements. The Board of Regents recently issued Principles for University COVID-19 Response Planning. However, these principles do not address whether any changes will be made to residency standards in light of the way the pandemic fundamentally altered traditional learning systems. It remains to be seen how distance learning will impact the standards that apply for obtaining in-state tuition.

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