Fall is college application season. And high school seniors across New Jersey are polishing up their resumes and essays, blanketing university admission offices with their hopeful submissions.

Therefore, the timing is not surprising for a local marketing blitz by the State University of New York. More commonly known by the acronym "SUNY," it is a vast system of 64 unique campuses spread across the Empire State. All of which are heavily funded by public New York State tax dollars. Therefore, NY residents are charged deeply discounted in-state tuition and fees.

Now, the SUNY system is offering applicants from New Jersey (and seven other states) a special deal. The cost to attend a select group of 22 SUNY schools will be adjusted to match in-state tuition and fees of New Jersey's "flagship" state university: Rutgers, New Brunswick.

Apparently, utilizing this program is automatic. According to the SUNY 'Go NY' site, "If you apply to one of the 22 participating SUNY campuses from any of the 8 designated states, if you get in, the campus you are applying to will automatically apply a cost adjustment to match the tuition and fees of your home-state flagship."

At first glance, it sounds like an amazing deal. But don't be fooled — the math shows it's just a marketing gimmick.

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How Much Can You Save? (Or Not?)

According to the SUNY Tuition and Fees web site, regular out-of-state tuition and fees for resident baccalaureate programs comes to $18,720 per academic year. (Not including room, board, books, lab fees, transportation, personal expenses, etc.)

Meanwhile, the amount of tuition and fees owed at Rutgers University depends upon which of the nine undergraduate schools and colleges a student is enrolled. Using the numbers for Rutgers' largest unit — the School of Arts & Sciences — the comparative cost of attendance is $18,705 per year.

The difference is a measly $15 discount per year. Or a total of $60 over a 4-year undergraduate career. Not even enough to buy a textbook.

Unfortunately, the discount disappointment is not a reflection of an unusually high price to attend Rutgers for NJ students. Looking at annual in-state tuition for the other seven states in the program — and their respective, carefully handpicked state universities —the results are very similar.

—California... UC Berkeley... $19,189

—Connecticut... UConn - Storrs... $19,434

—Illinois... University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign... $17,138

—Massachusetts... UMass Amherst... $16,952

—New Hampshire... UNH - Durham... $15,520

—Pennsylvania... Penn State - University Park... $19,286

—Vermont... UVM - Burlington... $18,890

Notice that four of the states — California, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Vermont — would technically be charged more if paying their own in-state tuition over SUNY out-of-state tuition.

New Hampshire is the best "bargain" of the bunch, potentially saving SUNY matriculants about $3,200 per year.

Winants Hall at Rutgers New Brunswick campus
Rutgers tuition is middle-of-the-road, compared to similar "flagship" state universities in other states. (Rutgers University)

One positive note that is worth mentioning: The State University of New York's own tuition and fee schedule is clearly a good deal. In-state residents pay just $8,810 for the 2022-23 school year. Plus, officials claim that "Fifty percent of SUNY's full-time, in-state undergraduate students pay $0 tuition after receiving financial aid," including the Excelsior Scholarship and Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

It's too bad SUNY is not extending its own in-state rate to NJ and other out-of-state students. That would be a tremendous deal.

Other Considerations

On top of the questionable advantage of these tuition/fee adjustments, there are a few other pieces of information to notice.

—Numbers Subject to Change: While I carefully sourced and linked all my data and math here, tuition and fee numbers can change. Radically, sometimes. College financial aid offices are notorious for technicalities and red tape, adding an extra layer of complexity to actually obtaining the discount.

—Renewal Requirements: The program FAQ notes "the tuition match is renewable for up to four years by maintaining full-time status, a minimum GPA, and housing requirements." So there's no guarantee you'd earn the cost adjustment every year. And you might be forced to live on-campus for four years.

—Only 22 Schools: The tuition match program is only available at about a third of SUNY's 64 campuses:
University at Albany
Alfred State
SUNY Brockport
SUNY Buffalo State
SUNY Canton
SUNY Cobleskill
SUNY Cortland
SUNY Delhi
SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry
Farmingdale State College
SUNY Geneseo
SUNY Maritime
SUNY Morrisville
SUNY New Paltz
SUNY Old Westbury
SUNY Oneonta
SUNY Oswego
SUNY Plattsburgh
SUNY Potsdam
Purchase College
SUNY Polytechnic Institute

Notably absent are New York's own flagship universities, including Binghamton University, the University at Buffalo, Cornell University (three of seven undergraduate colleges are statutory), and Stony Brook University.

Three of Ivy League Cornell University's seven undergraduate colleges are public, but none are included in this out-of-state tuition "deal". (NY.gov)
Three of Ivy League Cornell University's seven undergraduate colleges are public, but none are included in this out-of-state tuition "deal". (NY.gov)

At Least It's Free to Apply

If you are a student interested in attending a State University of New York college next year, there is one available offer you can't miss.

SUNY Interim Chancellor Deborah F. Stanley announced this week that it would drop application fees for all 64 campuses through November 6, 2022.

Prospective students can apply for up to five SUNY schools free of charge, using either their own application or the Common App.

Stanley said, "An application fee should not be the deal breaker that prevents an individual from pursuing the many benefits of a higher education."

The Bottom Line

In this particular case, don't be fooled. Avoid the immediate temptation of an apparently massive discount that just doesn't add up.

Having said that, the SUNY system has some outstanding schools with excellent academic programs. And their out-of-state tuition is reasonable — on par with New Jersey's own in-state institutions.

There are so many factors to consider in selecting which colleges you will apply to, and where you will ultimately attend. Best of luck to all in finding the perfect fit!

Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow Dan on Facebook or Twitter for your latest weather forecast updates.

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