Higher Education


The Idea

States can reduce their public college and university tuition and fees for service members, veterans, and military families.

The Issue

Near the end of World War II, the United States compensated service members for their contributions with what Benjamin Franklin once referred to as “the best return for the investment: an education” The landmark legislation that provided this benefit was the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill.

The result? Millions of veterans went to college and then went on to start businesses; teach in schools; design and build infrastructure; lead companies and community organizations; or work for the government in further service to their country.

The promise of providing educational assistance for veterans as repayment and as investment lives on today in the post-9/11 GI Bill — a renewed effort to help veterans and military families earn college degrees or certifications and then enter the workforce as better-prepared employees.

As a result of the post-9/11 GI Bill, almost 400,000 veterans and military family members have enrolled in post-secondary schools and programs across the country. Yet returning to school has not been the end to hardships and start to a better life that many had hoped it would be. While the GI Bill pays tuition and fees to cover most in-state tuition costs, some gaps still remain:

  • Service members are afforded enough assistance for only one complete college education, meaning that some family members inevitably don’t get to share in the benefits.
  • It is almost impossible to work full-time and attend school full-time –  a problem that especially plagues older, non-traditional veteran or military spouse students who likely have young families; unique (and costly) mental and physical health issues; and other financial stresses, including housing costs, credit card debt, and child support payments.

Thus, even with GI Bill tuition assistance, many veterans and military family members simply do not have the means to attend colleges or universities. In addition, the GI Bill currently eases the burden of tuition, housing, books, and fees up to $17,500 per year; however, it does not always cover all the rising costs of higher education. To this end, some states have stepped up and worked to help military families meet the expenses of higher education in state schools.

What States are Doing

Virginia’s Military Survivors and Dependents Program (MSDEP) waives all public college and university tuition and mandatory fees for:

  • children and spouses of Virginia-resident veterans who became at least 90% disabled according to the Veterans’ Administration (VA) ratings system while serving on active duty, and
  • children and spouses of Virginia-resident service members who were killed in action, missing in action, or prisoners of war while serving on active duty.

Some additional funds are available to help pay for housing, food, and books. Additionally, as of summer 2011, veterans and their dependents can now qualify for in-state tuition without having to wait the normal 1-year period to establish residency.

Contacts

Commentary

Virginia fought hard for its military higher education benefits. The 2011 proposal to grant in-state tuition for all veterans was met with hardened opposition. Some state senators were aghast at the proposal because non-resident veterans don’t pay state taxes to Virginia.

But Terri L. Suit, who was then serving in the Virginia House of Delegates and is the wife of a Navy SEAL, offered up a quick response: “They pay the ultimate tax,” she said, thinking of the Virginia residents who died in a Navy SEAL helicopter crash.

Texas

Texas’ Hazlewood Exemption provides those qualified with an education benefit of up to 150 credit hours worth of tuition, as well as fee exemptions, for undergraduate or graduate programs at state colleges or universities. Those 150 credit hours generally add up to a complete degree. Books, supplies, living expenses, property deposits, and student service fees are not covered, and it may not be used on top of federal benefits if those federal benefits cover full tuition.

Individuals qualified to use the Hazlewood Exemption include:

  • resident veterans who were active duty for at least 180 days
  • resident children and spouses of a service member who died or become totally disabled as a result of service-related injuries or illness, or went missing in action or become prisoners of war
  • veterans or military family members who are not receiving full post-9/11 GI Bill, which covers tuition, fees, books, and housing and would exceed benefits from the Hazlewood Exemption
  • children and spouses of current active duty or reserve service members who are deployed to a combat zone (this particular provision is capped for funding on an annual basis)

Contacts

Resources

  • Information for military students in Texas state colleges and universities