Plain and simple, college tuition is expensive.
It's only getting more so, according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.
In a 15-state region that includes Colorado, undergraduate resident tuition and fees at four-year public institutions rose 3.1 percent, on average, for the 2013-2014 school year.
That's pocket change, though, compared to the 50.5 percent jump since 2008-2009 and the 123.4 percent since 2003-2004, WICHE figures show.
And, if your future engineer or artist has his or her heart set on a school out of state, you'd really better have started saving early.
Last year, non-residents at those same universities could expect to pay roughly $12,000 more than their resident peers, according to WICHE.
That's just the average — for the upcoming school year, an out-of-state student at the University of Colorado will pay an estimated $33,333 in tuition and fees, versus $10,971 for state residents.
There are a few options for out-of-state relief, although some are more viable than others. (You can always pick up the entire family and move, for one.)
Tuition-reciprocity programs, such as the Western Undergraduate Exchange, can mean big savings for residents of certain states.
The agreements allow students to attend schools in other states at the in-state (or otherwise highly discounted) rate, easily shaving off thousands of dollars in tuition bills.
Petitioning for in-state tuition after enrollment is also possible, but it's no silver bullet, experts warn.
"I've seen it where students come here as non-residents and thought just by living here and going to school for nine months, they would automatically become a resident," said Tom Biedscheid, director of student financial services at Colorado State University. "That's absolutely never the case."
Unless you have a parent living in the state, almost all schools will require proof that you have established permanent residency in the state — separate from attending school there — and that you are financially independent, at least to some degree.
That can include turning over bank statements, W-2 forms and your parents' tax returns, as well as registering to vote, getting a driver's license and paying state income taxes.
Each state and school has its own rules, said Jake Wells, founder of In-State Angels, a Boulder-based business that sprouted in 2011 to help non-residents through the petition process as quickly as possible.
In Colorado, for example, state law requires students under the age of 23 without a parent living in the state to prove emancipation, or total financial and residential independence, for at least one year.
In the University of California system, it's two.
In Oregon, on the other hand, students can receive up to half of their financial support from another person. Washington students must work at least 30 hours a week at a non-student job to overcome the assumption that they're only in the state for educational purposes.
"It's a big puzzle," Wells said. "You either have an A-plus strong case or you fail."
Wells would know. After high school, he moved to Colorado from Washington state, committed to making the state his permanent home. He spent a year trying to establish residency at CU, only to find out that he missed a piece of documentation. He was denied.
"I couldn't go back in time and change the past. I was out of luck," he said. "Had I had some guidance, it's something I wouldn't have overlooked."
Today, In-State Angels shepherds students through the process at schools in 37 states. You pay only if you're successful — typically 10-15 percent of your savings every semester, Wells said.
"We really believe that certain people deserve in-state tuition and other don't," Wells said.
"It's someone who has the long-term intention of becoming a resident of the state and someone who is an adult, to some degree," he said. "It's not someone who moves just for four years to go to college and their parents are paying for everything."
At CSU, the school receives about 200 residency petitions a year, with an approval rate topping 80 percent, Biedscheid said.
"If they're at all eligible, we'll help them in any way we can to get it done in a timely manner," he said. "They really shouldn't need any outside support."
CU recently tightened its process for petitioning through emancipation, in part because of In-State Angels, spokesman Ken McConnellogue said.
(For the record, lying on your application can subject you to both criminal charges and university discipline.)
"We're just saying to them, 'Show us you're truly financially independent.' If they can do that, more power to them, we'll welcome them as a resident," McConnellogue said. "But our obligation is to Colorado students and Colorado taxpayers first and foremost."
In the western U.S., the Western Undergraduate Exchange is another option for out-of-state savings.
More than 150 two-year and four-year schools in 15 states participate: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Each WUE school agrees to give eligible students from all member states a break on tuition — charging no more than 150 percent of the in-state rate.
For 2013-2014, savings ranged from $925 to $13,400 per student, said Margo Colalancia, director of student exchange for WICHE, which oversees the WUE program. The average was $6,150.
Participating schools set their own guidelines for eligibility.
Some, like CSU, automatically give the WUE rate to students, provided they meet a certain academic threshold. Others require a separate application or allow the rate only for specific majors or for a set number of students.
"It's a real motivator — (WUE) kids have four years to complete their degree," Colalancia said. "They really have to be on the ball, but it gives them the luxury to not have to do work-study or do less of it."
Emilie Rusch: 303-954-2457, email@example.com or twitter.com/emilierusch