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State Residency Laws and Policies

The State Education Assistance Authority is the primary and sole authority to conduct residency determination for the state of North Carolina. The specific standards for determining resident status for tuition purposes are set forth in North Carolina General Statute section 116-143.1. Session Law 2015-241 authorized the State Education Assistance Authority to perform all functions necessary to implement the coordinated and centralized process to apply the criteria in G.S. §116-143.1 and directed UNCGA and the NCCCS to take the necessary actions to facilitate an orderly transition from the campus-based residency determination system to the coordinated and centralized process.

Purpose and Background of North Carolina Residency
The state of North Carolina substantially subsidizes the cost of tuition for all students whose domicile, or permanent legal residence, is in North Carolina. Since it first became a state, North Carolina has abided by the philosophy that an educated public is necessary to a democratic government and that the State, therefore, has an obligation to provide for the education of its people. Article IX, Section 9, of the State Constitution states "The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of the University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense". Therefore, while North Carolina welcomes out-of-state students it considers the privilege of providing a reduced in-state tuition rate to be a taxpayer benefit. Among other benefits provided only to students who meet the domiciliary requirements is eligibility for consideration for State-sponsored programs of student financial aid to help pay for college expenses. The same rules that govern residency determination for in-state tuition are also applicable to the residency status for State aid programs at both public institutions and independent colleges and universities. For decades the determination of residency has resided on the campus where the tuition benefit and/or the State aid was administered.

In 2013 the NC General Assembly became concerned about inconsistency in residency determinations across institutions of higher education in North Carolina. The General Assembly legislatively directed UNC General Administration (GA), the NC Community College System (NCCCS), the NC State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA) and the NC Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) to create a centralized, uniform process for determining residency for tuition purposes and for administration of state financial aid. This centralized process is known as the Residency Determination Service (RDS). In order for a student to receive the benefits of in-state tuition and/or State student aid a residency determination from RDS is required. A student generally only has to complete the RDS one time instead of seeking separate residency determinations at multiple colleges and universities. To learn more about residency and complete a determination go to www.NCresidency.org.

The language of residency determinations includes many legal terms as well as certain lay terms and technical terms which have a specialized meaning in some contexts. North Carolina law clearly distinguishes "legal resident" from "resident for tuition purposes". A person may be a legal resident of North Carolina for certain purposes, such as voting, but might not meet all of the requirements under North Carolina law to be a resident for tuition purposes.

In order to be a resident for tuition purposes, the person must meet the specific legal requirements under North Carolina law. This is the basis upon which the determination of residency for in-state tuition is made.

Active Duty Military Current member of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy and North Carolina National Guard.

Appeal You may request an Appeal if you believe that the RDS process has failed to accurately consider important information regarding your residency claim. There are two levels of appeal. The initial appeal is the RDS Appeal; the second level appeal is the SEAA Statewide Committee Appeal). You continue to have litigation available to you as an option following these two levels of Appeal.

Bona fide In good faith with earnest intent. A person must demonstrate that he or she has established a bona fide, as opposed to a temporary, domicile when seeking residency classification. A bona fide domicile is one in which the person's relevant conduct and motivation evidences a genuine desire to establish legal residence in North Carolina as opposed to actions performed for some reason other than to make North Carolina the person's permanent home (such as to become eligible for in-state tuition).

Capacity Legal ability to establish residence unimpeded by other factors such as age, finances or non-immigration status.

CFNC--College Foundation of North Carolina College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) is a premier college access program in the United States with the mission of increasing the college-going rate in North Carolina. Its Internet website, CFNC.org, provides a comprehensive resource to assist all North Carolina students and families in planning, applying, and paying for college. CFNC.org has a partnership with all 110 public and private North Carolina colleges as an application portal, with over 1.25 million college applications submitted online to date. CFNC.org was selected by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) as the sole partner and provider of electronic high school transcripts in the state. CFNC provides the technological infrastructure for the Residency Determination Service (RDS).

Change in Circumstances Change in personal circumstances since the original determination (e.g., you got married, you joined the military, etc.)

Citizenship The status of a person recognized under the custom or law of a country which is generally the country of birth.

Continuous Enrollment Solely for purposes of the Residency Determination System (RDS), a student is continuously enrolled at a North Carolina higher education institution if the student is consecutively enrolled at the same North Carolina higher education institution in fall and spring semesters in courses or prerequisites creditable toward a degree, diploma, or certificate for which tuition is charged. A break in enrollment occurs when a student is not enrolled in two consecutive semesters (i.e. fall and spring or spring and fall). Students are not required to be enrolled during the summer term(s) to maintain continuous enrollment for purposes of RDS.

Dependent An applicant status that indicates a person who is not self-sufficient, especially financially, and relies on another person or persons to provide the majority of his or her shelter, clothing and food, etc. A person defined as a "qualifying child" or "qualifying relative" for income tax purposes. A person's spouse is never considered that person's dependent.

Domicile One's permanent dwelling place of indefinite duration, as distinguished from a temporary place of abode; synonymous with legal residence. The word "domicile" is a legal term defined as the place where a person intends to remain and live permanently, and the place the person intends to return to after any absence. Permanency is the key. A person who lives in a place for a temporary purpose, for example, for a vacation or to attend college, and who intends to live elsewhere when that purpose is accomplished, is not a resident for tuition purposes. It is important to remember that a person can have multiple residences, but can have only one domicile at a given time.

Duration The length of time required to establish a permanent home or domicile in North Carolina. NC law requires a person to live in the state for 12 continuous months prior to be classified as a resident for tuition purposes.

Emancipated Minor Under certain circumstances, a person who has not achieved the age required by law for adulthood (in North Carolina, age 18) may be treated as an adult for legal purposes. Such a person is legally capable of establishing a domicile independent of that of his or her parents, although he or she must still demonstrate that a separate domicile in fact has been established when seeking in-state status for tuition purposes.

Enrollment The status of being registered as a part-time or as a full-time student for an academic term that has begun.

Exception(s) The General Assembly has enacted laws that grant resident status for tuition purposes to certain categories of students attending state supported institutions.

Five Year Rule
  • For minors living with an adult relative (e.g. aunt, uncle, or grandparent, etc) they must live with the adult relative for 5 years continuously in a parent -child relationship. The minor does not need to be a tax dependent on the adult relative; however the length of time living with the adult relative(s) must be confirmed through documentation. If confirmed, living parents are no longer the starting point for residency determination.
  • For non-minors whose parents are domiciled outside of North Carolina, shall not be prima facie evidence of the individuals residence if the non-minor has lived continuously in North Carolina for five years or more prior to enrolling or re-enrolling at an institution of higher education in NC.

Independent An independent is a person who is legally entitled to claim, and in fact does claim, himself or herself on income tax returns, is not claimed by another person as a dependent on that person's income tax return, and possesses sufficient funds to live and pay tuition and fees at the person's current residence classification without outside financial assistance. Generally speaking, a student cannot be approved as a resident for tuition purposes if that student is financially dependent upon his or her parents or legal guardian(s) who are not legal residents of North Carolina.

Initial Classification The first classification of residency for tuition purposes assigned to an applicant for admission to a public institution of higher education based on information entered into the Residency Determination Service. Every applicant is initially classified as either a resident or nonresident for tuition purposes.

Intent The determination to perform domiciliary acts to make North Carolina his or her home; because it is difficult to determine a person's intent to make North Carolina his or her home, RDS must evaluate actions taken by the person that may indicate a "domiciliary intent".

Legal Guardian A person who is court-appointed to act in the place of an individual's parent(s) (usually referred to as a "guardian of the person" or "general guardian"). A guardianship ends when the person reaches age 18 or is otherwise emancipated.

Legal Residence Domicile (see definition above).

Legal Resident A person who is a domiciliary of (is domiciled in) North Carolina.

Marriage See the definition of Spousal Benefit.

Minor A person under the age of eighteen (18) years. A minor is generally presumed to have the same domicile as that of his or her parents.

Misrepresentation A false and fraudulent misstatement of fact. If an applicant or someone acting on the applicant's behalf knowingly makes a misrepresentation in connection with a state residency application or appeal, that misrepresentation could lead to a misdemeanor charge.

Non-Resident A person who has not established legal residence (domicile) in North Carolina, or who has not maintained that legal residence for at least 12 months immediately prior to requesting a residency classification. Non-Residents are not eligible for in-state tuition or for state financial aid. A person requesting a residency determination who is found to be a non-resident has not proven adequately that:
  • his or her presence in the state is or has been for the purpose of maintaining a bona fide domicile, or
  • his or her domicile has satisfied the 12-month requirement specified in the law.

Preponderance of Evidence A preponderance of evidence means RDS reviews information about you to determine if the greater weight (preponderance) of the information you provide indicates you moved to North Carolina for reasons other than attending college.

Presumption A legal inference used to place the burden of proof and of producing supporting evidence on one party to a proceeding in order to overcome that presumption.

Prima Facie At first appearance or first view - before investigation. Under North Carolina law, the legal residence of the applicant's parents shall be prima facie evidence of the applicant's legal residence. This presumption may be rebutted or reinforced by other evidence relative to the age and general circumstances of the applicant.

RCN (Residency Certification Number) The Residency Certification Number ("RCN") is a unique identifier that RDS assigns to you; it provides confirmation that you have completed the RDS residency determination process. RDS gives you an RCN when you complete and submit the RDS online interview. The RCN is unique to you and may be used by a college to request data from RDS concerning your residency determination.

RDS (Residency Determination Service) The Residency Determination Service (RDS) is a centralized residency service for all students seeking admission to, and in-state tuition rate at, a North Carolina public college or university and for students seeking to be eligible for the North Carolina state grant as part of their financial aid package. The service is was developed through a collaboration of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU), the Community College System (NCCCS), the University of North Carolina System (UNC), and the College Foundation under the direction and authority of the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA).

Reconsideration The RDS Reconsideration process is for students who:
  • provided incomplete information or need to enter in missing data to your current determination
  • made an error while entering information in your current determination
  • have had a change in personal circumstances since the original determination (e.g., you got married, you joined the military, etc.)
  • failed to submit required documentation by the 25-day deadline
  • have a determination which is about to expire
You are limited to three Reconsideration requests every 90 days.

Residence A place of abode, whether permanent or temporary. "Permanent residence" means the legal residence or domicile, whereas "temporary residence" means one's abode for an undetermined or temporary duration. A person may have many residences but only one permanent, legal residence (domicile).

Residency Expiration Date A residency determination is valid for fifteen months, and this date will reflect the residency application date plus 455 days. This is a critical data point because students whose residency determination expires prior to the start-of-term will need a new residency determination before enrolling for that term.

Resident A person who has established legal residence (domicile) in North Carolina and maintained that legal residence for at least 12 months (365 days) immediately prior to his or her classification as a resident for in-state tuition and state financial aid eligibility purposes. The applicant must establish that his or her presence in the state is, and has been, for the purpose of maintaining a bona fide domicile. In accordance with state law, persons who come to North Carolina from another state for the purpose of attending college or university are not North Carolina residents and cannot receive the benefit of in-state tuition.

Spousal Benefit Marital status does not affect the residency analysis and, therefore, you are not required to divulge your status or provide information about your spouse. There is, however, a marital provision that allows an applicant who marries a North Carolina legal resident to count the length of time the resident spouse was domiciled in North Carolina for purposes of satisfying the 12-month durational requirement. If you believe this provision applies to you, you will be asked questions relating to this benefit as part of the RDS online interview. You will also be asked to upload or fax supporting evidence including spousal evidence and certificate of marriage.

Tuition The sum charged to students by an educational institution for credit instruction at the time of registration, regardless of the means by which the instruction is delivered. Tuition does not include any other fees charged by the institution of higher education or the costs of textbooks.

Validation RDS validation confirms the accuracy of information you provide in the RDS online interview. RDS validates this information through database matches with federal and North Carolina state agencies and by requesting additional documentation (if needed). If the information you provide fails validation you will be classified as a non-resident.

Veterans A person who has served in active duty status for not less than 90 days in the Armed Forces, the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and who was discharged or released from such service under conditions other than dishonorable.

Veterans Choice Act Federal legislation providing in state tuition to certain veterans and other eligible individuals such as spouse and dependents while enrolled at an institution of higher learning.

Waiver There are several benefits and special rules corresponding to residency. Certain categories of students are entitled to an adjustment in tuition for attendance at public institutions. In these cases, eligible students must still be domiciled in North Carolina in order to be considered for the tuition waiver. Tuition waivers are handled at the campus level but information is also provided here for reference. If you have a question about whether you may, or may not, qualify for a waiver contact your school.

Ward of the State Wards of the State are orphans or other children who have been placed in the custody of the state.

The purpose of this Guidebook is to outline the laws and policies necessary to accurately and effectively render residence classification decisions. This Guidebook may be used by students and their families to assist in understanding the legal and procedural requirements of resident classification for tuition purposes, and eligibility for the Legislative Tuition Grant, the Need Based Grants and Scholarships, and/or any other State-funded programs of financial assistance at North Carolina's institutions of higher education.

RDS Guidebook Adobe PDF Click the icon at the bottom of this page to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

The primary North Carolina statute requiring domicile for in-state tuition purposes is N.C.G.S. Chapter 116, Article 14. Additional laws relating to residency include:

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