Which states offer student veterans an in-state residency exemption? Why does it matter?
When a public state college or university classifies a student as an out-of-state resident, the student usually faces a much larger tuition bill. According to the College Tuition Compare website, for the 2012-2013 academic year in California the average difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition was over $13,000. In Florida, an out-of-state student was charged on average $11,000 more than the in-state student. And, in Oklahoma the out-of-state student was charged an average of over $8,000 more compared to their in-state counterpart.
For recently separated student veterans, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition can result in an unexpected, large tuition and fee bill from the university. The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers the cost of in-state tuition and fees, meaning a student veteran who is designated as an out-of-state resident may have to cover the remaining cost through scholarships, grants, loans, or out of their own pocket.
Usually public state colleges and universities require a student to live within the boundaries of the state for 12 consecutive months before being classified as a state resident for the purposes of tuition. However, for veterans separating from the service, this classification of a resident may be difficult to fulfill for a variety of reasons.
Consider this: During military service, servicemembers are moved and placed based on direction from the Department of Defense. This movement can happen very often, both within the United States and overseas, making it difficult for a servicemember to establish residency in any one state. In some cases, servicemembers remove their uniform and return home to find that, due to their movement while in the military, they no longer qualify as a resident in their state of origin because they have not lived “within the boundaries of the state for 12 consecutive months.”
Or, consider a servicemember who has been stationed in a state for 8 months — holds a drivers license from the state, pays taxes in the state, and for all intents and purposes now considers this state her home — transitions out of the military and chooses to use their VA education benefit to pursue a bachelors degree. Because she has only lived in their current state for 8 months, she would not receive in-state tuition should they choose to stay in the region; however, her state of origin may also consider her an out-of-state resident because she has not lived “within the state for 12 consecutive months.” During a crucial time such as this, a veteran is left to either delay pursuing an education or to burden the expenses of out-of-state tuition.
As of this post, twenty states have recognized this difficulty for student veterans and have passed legislation to exempt recently separated veterans from the residency requirement making them eligible for in-state tuition and fees. The states typically ask student veterans to live within the state boundaries while they go to school and show that they intend to establish long-term residency usually by obtaining the state’s driver’s license, register to vote in the state, etc. However, all states are different; some states extend the exemption to veteran spouses and dependents, others do not, and some states have specific criteria for veterans to receive the exemption. So, it is important for recently separated veterans to check into the details of the state and school they are planning to attend.
In another eight states, public college systems have passed system wide policies granting student veterans residency exemptions. Some college systems, like University of Alaska and University of Georgia, cover 2-year and 4-year colleges. Other systems such as University of Rhode Island and University of Michigan only cover the 4-year state colleges. Again, it is important for veterans to ask their schools if they will be considered a state resident for tuition purposes.
I stand with many other veteran advocates in applauding these states that have set an example for the rest of the country, but as it stands the system is extremely nuanced and can be difficult to navigate. I hope that we can build on all the momentum to increase awareness of this challenge facing student veteran because, honestly, not only is in-state tuition a way to thank veterans for their service, it is also a way to recruit professional talent, diversify campus communities, and enrich a state’s economy. It’s a win, win.
To help inform student veterans about this issue, SVA, The American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) partnered to create a new interactive map that servicemembers and veterans can use to learn about specific state laws and school policies regarding residency for veterans.
NEXT: A look at why active duty servicemembers and dependents receive an in-state residency waiver while veterans do not.