Exponent Explains: The path to residency

Set in the beautiful Montana landscape and located near countless outdoor opportunities, many out-of-state students are drawn to MSU to pursue an education. Out-of-state students can become MSU-recognized Montana residents by meeting a set of requirements determined by the Office of the Registrar. Many students are drawn to the appeal of becoming a resident for the significantly lower tuition prices.

A student’s residency status is determined when they apply or reapply to MSU, in accordance with Board of Regents policy. If an out-of-state student wants to change their status and become a Montana resident, they can fill out a residency petition after familiarizing themselves with the Board of Regents’ policy. Each student is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, according to Tony Campeau, the interim registrar at MSU.

Requirements for all students to gain residency include living in the state for 12 continuous months and during this time not being absent from the state for more than 30 consecutive days. The student must also take actions consistent with a Montana resident, such as registering to vote, gaining a Montana driver’s license and filing Montana taxes.

Essentially, students have to prove they moved to Montana for reasons other than education for themselves or family member. A student also has to demonstrate 51 percent financial independence which can be complicated with details like Parent Plus loans, gifts or poor record keeping.

If a student acquires a job after applying to MSU, the process can be further complicated because it appears they moved to the state for educational purposes. While attempting to gain residency, students also cannot take advantage of residency benefits from another state like voting in that state, receiving in-state tuition in that state or receiving a dividend.

Chicago native Jono Fields, a sophomore studying conservation, is currently trying to gain Montana residency. Gaining residency has benefits beyond lower tuition for him: “I feel like it all comes together at that point, not only the lack of debt I’m going to have when I’m done, but this whole experience this year has been pretty great and even at the end of everything, I’ll be a resident,” Fields said.

Fields started the process at the end of last summer and has acquired a Montana driver’s license, registered his car, works full-time and has been a part-time student since fall of 2014. The most difficult part of gaining residency has been figuring out the requirements and knowing there is still a chance it may not work, but Fields has enjoyed taking on the responsibility of trying to become a resident. “Balancing work and school has actually been really good this year and being able to finally be independent is really nice,” Fields said.

Like other students trying to gain residency, Fields’ case is unique to his situation. The steps one student takes to gain residency may not be the same steps another student should take. Those who wish to attempt to gain residency are encouraged to visit the Office of the Registrar to discuss the appeals process and their situation. They can be reached at registrar@montana.edu and are located at 101 Montana Hall.