By Ariel Boone
“Replacing MREs with Degrees since 2004.” This was the motto of my university’s campus veterans group, formed to support returning veterans as they made the big transition from the armed forces to the classroom. The message was clear: my public university was proud to count veterans among its students. So why are four in five U.S. student veterans forced to pay out-of-state tuition, and then saddled with debt?
The Post-9/11 GI Bill’s benefits to honorably discharged veterans are strong:
- Tuition payments directly to a school
- An annual book stipend
- A living allowance to match local rental market cost
But payments only cover in-state tuition, which for thirty-one states requires residency. Circumstances out of their control make it harder for veterans to establish residency, and without in-state tuition, they’re left footing the rest of the bill or turning away from their college of choice.
Nineteen other states, including Texas, Arizona, Indiana and Oregon, have moved to ensure all American veterans can receive in-state tuition at their state colleges and universities, regardless of residency.
California almost moved to do the same: AB 13, a bill authored by Assemblymember Rocky Chavez, would have granted in-state tuition to all U.S. veterans discharged in the past two years. It moved steadily through the California Legislature until it failed to pass last month. A pair of bills to guarantee in-state tuition nationally were introduced on the Hill, S 257 and HR 357, but have not moved forward.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and several Southern California community colleges weighed in on the importance of keeping veterans in California schools. But cost concerns in California drove the University of California to express concern about the bill in July.
The transition back to civilian life isn’t always this cute.
There are 1.9 million veterans aged 18 to 34 in the United States – and over half of California student veterans who take advantage of GI Bill benefits attend a California Community College. Nationwide, one quarter of all community college students attend school in California. The doors of college should be open to veterans in every state, but especially California. If not through a legislative fix this year, student veterans in California deserve a solution in 2014.
Are you a veteran, or know a veteran? We want to hear from you @YI_Care!