A change to the GI Bill last year has left college-going veterans in 38 states in a massive financial lurch. Some 250,000 veterans returned to their home states after serving their country to find that their in-state colleges and universities had mis-classified them as out-of-state students.
"Many veterans are having to quit school because they can’t afford that $5,000 per semester they have to now pay out of pocket,” said Jason Thigpen, founder and president of the North Carolina based Student Veterans Advocacy Group (SVAG), “This is the first time in the history of the GI Bill that we can’t get the education that we were promised…It’s a debt that’s owed to these services members. Our veterans are just asking what was promised to them—no more, no less.” According to NBCNews.com,
Despite a…pile of residency proof…student veteran Hayleigh Perez, 26, has failed during several hearings to convince the University of North Carolina that she was fully eligible for GI Bill tuition benefits when she attended UNC Pembroke last spring.
Perez, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2006, legally maintained her residence in Fayetteville, N.C., during a subsequent 15-month deployment to Iraq, she said. When she returned to North Carolina, she got married in that state. In 2008, Perez and her husband bought a home in Hoke County, N.C. and she registered as a voter. In 2009, the U.S. military relocated Perez and her husband to Texas, but the couple continued to pay property taxes on their North Carolina home, she said.
Perez received an honorable discharge from the Army in 2009. Last spring, after her husband was transferred back to North Carolina, Perez enrolled at UNC Pembroke. She was stunned, however, when the school billed her $4,600 for a semester of tuition because she’d been deemed an out-of-state resident — and, thus, ineligible for the GI Bill.
“It is disgraceful,” Perez said. “I was forced to borrow the money for my tuition from family members.”
Huge and perverse financial incentives are at stake, since public universities will get paid one way or another if an undergraduate needs a degree and doesn’t have other options. In Perez’s case, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition would be about $11,000. Instead, she is now attending a private institution and has no plans to return to return to the UNC system.
Still, even if just a fraction of the quarter-million veterans, say 25,000, have their benefits denied by state postsecondary institutions, that works out to $275 million.
Taxpayer supported institutions that cheat veterans out of the benefits they have earned through service to our country should be sanctioned with a loss of public funding and/or accreditation. State lawmakers should also look into establishing state-level education savings accounts (ESAs) so veterans could more easily take their earned education dollars to any public—or private—postsecondary institution of their choice.