Thirteen Utahns are among the first participants in a new regional program that allows students a wider variety in their choice of schools, while keeping tuition expenses down, officials say.

Under the program, coordinated by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, a student in Utah can get reduced tuition at 74 participating colleges and universities in 12 Western states. Rates charged under the program are from 30 percent to 60 percent below regular non-resident tuition.Students in other participating states get a similar break at Utah schools. And officials say about 46 people from seven other states are currently taking advantage of the program, working on undergraduate degrees at nine Utah campuses.

"The effect of the exchange is much the same as a scholarship for students desiring to attend a public college outside of Utah yet remain in the West," said Wm. Rolfe Kerr, Utah commissioner of higher education. "The tuition reduction makes non-resident tuition more affordable."

The regional agreement makes educational, as well as economic sense, said Phillip Sirotkin, the interstate commission's executive director.

"Participating colleges are able to offer admission to a larger applicant pool, strengthen their existing undergraduate programs and avoid duplicating programs available in a neighbor state," Sirotkin said.

Utah officials say the interchange does not diminish Utahns' opportunity to enroll at schools in their home state because out-of-state students in the program are accepted only in areas were openings exist, so they don't compete with resident students for enrollment acceptance.