California In-State Tuition for TX Resident with Mom in CA?

Question: I am a resident of California. My daughter, now a high school sophomore, currently resides in Texas with her father, but we have joint custody. Does she qualify for in-state tuition in California?

“The Dean” gets residency-requirement questions all the time but was flummoxed by this one. It seems that one needs an advanced degree … preferably in law (or maybe Quantum Physics? ;-)) to decipher the rules in California. Granted, I have sympathy for the Golden State brass. This is your classic, “If you build it, they will come” situation. That is, California offers so many excellent public education opportunities at a reasonable cost to in-state residents that’s it’s no surprise that anyone who has even an outside shot at in-state status is likely to take a stab at it.

But the California guidelines are so confusing that I had to call upon an expert to explain them to me. Diana Hume, a University of California “Residency Analyst” went above and beyond the call of duty for “the Dean.” So, with her help, I’ll answer your question, below. But, first, a disclaimer:

Diana cautioned me that the information she has provided is “general in nature and any reader in similar circumstances should not consider this information as a guarantee or promise of resident classification.” She explained that there are variables that may only come to light upon submission of all of the student’s information in the Statement of Legal Residence that the student must submit to the UC campus of choice, noting that, “It is only with that information in hand that a campus residence deputy can authoritatively determine eligibility for residence classification. Any reader who wants more information should contact the UC residence deputy at the campus he or she wishes to attend.”

Particularly confusing is that California has three public post-secondary systems: the California Community College (CCC) system, the California State University (CSU) system, and the University of California (UC) system. Each has its own set of regulations for California residence for purposes of tuition and fees. So, the policies that apply to your daughter will depend on where she matriculates. UC residence regulations, particularly regarding financial independence for students with non-California-resident parents, are the strictest of the three systems.

If your daughter is aiming for a UC school, you’ll find that UC residence regulations are the same for all UC campuses (even if varied wording on the different UC campus Web sites may make it seem otherwise). And these regulations are currently under revision, which means that there could be some changes in place by the time your daughter, now a sophomore, is ready to apply.

What probably won’t change is that after a student has been admitted to a UC campus, the student completes a Statement of Legal Residence, which is reviewed by the campus Residence Deputy to determine if the student meets the UC residence regulations. Each student is then accorded either a resident or nonresident classification. If a student is denied a resident classification, the student can appeal to The Office of the General Counsel within 30 days of the date of the denial letter.

According to Diana, this is how your daughter’s residency status will be probably be evaluated by the UC residence deputy:

FACTS: The student will be over 18 when she enrolls at UC and lives out of state with her father, who is divorced from her California-resident mother. Assume that the father or mother will no longer be paying child support as student is over 18. The student wishes to attend UC in fall 2012, so she applies to UC, is admitted, and goes to California just prior to the term she is to begin classes, where she may or may not live with her mother.

EVALUATION: If the mother can show that she has been supporting the student prior to the residence determination date (RDD),* principally by declaring her daughter as a dependent on her taxes for the most recent tax year, the student may be eligible for a resident classification for 366 days as the “Dependent of a California Resident,” during which time the student must establish her own physical presence and intent. When this exception expires, the student will have to submit a petition to the residence deputy to maintain her resident classification by meeting the University’s physical presence and intent requirements, and the mother will have to demonstrate that she continues to be a California resident and the student’s main source of support.

* The RDD, based on the date instruction begins at the last campus to open for the term, is different for the semester-based campuses (Berkeley and Merced) and the quarter-based campuses (Davis, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Irvine, Riverside, San Diego).

If your daughter begins residing with you prior to her 18th birthday (and assuming that you are a legal CA resident), then her claim to residency will be much more straightforward. However, if she plans to stay with her father until she finishes high school, it is unlikely that she will have relocated to CA before her 18th birthday, unless she is a fairly young high school senior. (I have an October birthday and so I was only 17 when I graduated from high school in mid-June, but that was eons ago, and kids today tend to start and finish school at an older age.)

So, bottom line: Your daughter may be eligible for in-state tuition but it won’t be automatic, so you are wise to look down the road now and take steps to facilitate the process (e.g., by providing support for your daughter and declaring her as a dependent on your taxes).

Good luck to you as you navigate this maze!