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Tactical Veteran: More states offering in-state tuition to vets

Feb. 11, 2014 - 06:01PM   |  
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Many states are offering nonresident veterans in-state tuition for public colleges, although we still have a long way to go to get them all onboard.

The effort is moving forward, however. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is pushing legislation called the GI Bill Fairness Act, and advocacy from groups like Student Veterans of America and others are keeping a focus on this issue. Hopefully, all states will soon be doing what’s right for our veterans.

Hanging in the balance could be many thousands of dollars out of your pocket, since the Post-9/11 GI Bill will cover tuition and fees only up to the in-state rate for any particular public school.

Let’s look at one large public school, UCLA, as an example.

For the current academic year, an in-state resident student living in campus housing is paying $32,415 in total tuition and fees. For a student who is not a state resident, the same bill totals $55,293, a difference of nearly $22,000 — almost all of it chalked up to a “nonresident supplemental tuition” fee.

Check it out for yourself at www.admissions.ucla.edu/prospect/budget.htm. I don’t know about you, but UCLA certainly looks much more affordable to me if you’re an in-state student.

If you’re intent on going to school in a state that does not offer all veterans in-state tuition, you really have only two choices: Pay the much higher nonresident costs, or apply to become a resident. The problem with that is, the process could take months, possibly up to a year — time you could have put to better use in the classroom.

The GI Bill Fairness Act was introduced specifically to help veterans qualify for in-state tuition, even if they are not state residents. This bill would allow veterans to stretch their valuable GI Bill benefits even further and reduce out-of-pocket expenses or loans that could carry high interest rates.

Student Veterans of America is supporting, and tracking, this legislation. On the SVA website at www.studentveterans.org/what-we-do/in-state-tuition.html, you can view a map showing which states have laws mandating in-state residency waivers for veterans, which states have one or more specific schools that offer such waivers, which have waiver legislation pending, and which are still not onboard.

Testifying before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee last year in support of the GI Bill Fairness Act, former SVA Executive Director Michael Dakduk noted that while the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers up to the highest in-state tuition and fees, military obligations prevent many veterans from establishing in-state residency for the purposes of enrolling at a public university or college. Dakduk now is vice president of military and veterans affairs at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.

“Ultimately, this becomes a financial burden that leaves veterans vying for additional financial aid due to out-of-state residency status,” Dakduk said last year. “It’s troubling to me that as a country we find no cost too great to send America’s sons and daughters off to war, yet when they remove the uniform some institutions find reasons not to give veterans the full support they have earned. Veterans served our nation in its entirety, not just one state. This bill reflects that.”

Don’t underestimate the importance of qualifying for in-state resident tuition and fees. In fact, if you’re thinking about attending college in a state other than your state of residence, this should be one of the first questions you ask of the advisers at the schools you’re considering.

Steven Maieli is the founder of TransitioningVeteran.com, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans benefits and other resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veterans’ issues at www.transitioningveteran.com/wordpress. Send questions and comments to tacticalveteran@militarytimes.com.

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