Determination of Residency for Tuition Purposes

Issued Date
May 26, 2022
State University of New York


To determine whether SUNY has adequate assurance that campuses are making accurate residency determinations for students and thus charging the correct tuition rates. The audit covers the period from June 2015 through September 2019.

About the Program

The State University of New York (SUNY) is the largest comprehensive system of public education in the nation, comprising 64 institutions (four of which are University Centers) – including research universities, academic medical centers, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and agricultural and technical institutes across the State – and educating approximately 375,000 students with approximately 91,000 faculty and staff. Of the 64 institutions, 28 offer graduate programs. For fiscal year 2020-21, SUNY had an overall budget of $11.9 billion and revenue of $13 billion, including State support totaling $3.6 billion and over $1.6 billion in tuition and fees.

Approximately 50% of undergraduate applications are processed through SUNY’s Application Service Center, which verifies that applicant information is complete, while the remaining applications are processed through the campus. In contrast, all graduate applications are processed directly through the campus where the student is applying. As stated in SUNY Policy 7810: Residency, Establishment of for Tuition Purposes (Residency Policy), each campus is responsible for making the final determination of students’ residency status and tuition charges.

The Residency Policy also establishes proof of residency requirements. To be considered a State resident and receive in-state tuition, a student must show proof of domicile – defined as a fixed, permanent home to which a person plans to return after an absence – within the State. Proof of domicile includes, but is not limited to, voter registration, driver’s license, State tax return, proof of property ownership, and vehicle registration. In order to be considered a State resident, students must have established their domicile in the State for a 12-month period immediately preceding the date of registration. The campus’ initial determination of residency status should be based on information provided by the student during the admissions process. All application forms should solicit information relative to the student’s principal or permanent home for the previous 12-month period.

The Residency Policy also states that a person does not acquire a State domicile only by being physically present in the State for the sole purpose of attending a State campus or by being physically present in the State for a period of 12 months. Students who have not established a State domicile at least 12 months immediately preceding their registration and who wish to be considered eligible for in-state tuition must submit to the campus a standard “Application for New York State Resident Status for Tuition Billing Purposes” (Residency Application) as well as all supporting documentation the student wishes the campus to consider.

Key Findings

  • SUNY does not have adequate assurance that, at the graduate level, campuses are making accurate residency determinations for students and that students are being charged the appropriate tuition rate. Having greater autonomy in their graduate application processing, each of the seven SUNY campuses we reviewed – University at Buffalo, Binghamton University, SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, Empire State College, SUNY at Plattsburgh, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and SUNY at Geneseo – applied its own interpretation of the Residency Policy requirements; and, in fact, some campus officials were not even aware that there was a policy that applied to graduate students. In many cases, the campuses relied solely on the residency status self-reported by students and did not obtain the proper supporting documentation to verify domicile.
  • We found potential undercharges totaling $1,343,051 for students who were charged the in-state rate as well as potential overcharges totaling $44,171 for students charged the out-of-state rate from our reviews at seven SUNY campuses. Further, based on a random statistical sample of 1,207 graduate student tuition assessments of the 150,116 total assessments for these seven campuses alone, we identified 421 assessments with either no or inadequate documentation of domicile. Projecting the results of our findings to the total enrollment for each of these campuses, we estimate that at least 52,484 graduate student tuition assessments have unsupported residency determinations.

Key Recommendations

To SUNY Administration:

  • Provide guidance and support to campus officials in interpreting and implementing the Residency Policy to ensure tuition is charged correctly by obtaining sufficient proof of residency for purposes of determining eligibility for in-state tuition.
  • Work with campuses to ensure all student residency documents are maintained for at least 6 years from the time the student separates from the campus.

To SUNY Campuses:

  • Ensure tuition is charged correctly by obtaining sufficient proof of residency for purposes of determining eligibility for in-state tuition.
  • Maintain all student residency documents for at least 6 years from the time the student separates from the campus.

Nadine Morrell

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director
: Nadine Morrell
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236