When changes to the GI Bill took effect in August, the revisions bridged a gap between the cost of public and private higher education for student veterans. While capping private tuition at nearly $18,000 the revisions also specify that only in-state tuition is covered. WHQR's Sara Wood reports this has created a financial burden for several hundred student veterans in North Carolina.
A Wounded Warrior Unit from Camp LeJeune is visiting UNCW where Ann Marie Beall, the school’s military liason, walks the group through application procedures. With changes to the GI Bill this year, several hundred of them are scrambling to pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. UNCW has the second-largest student veteran population in the state and Bell says nearly 200 student veterans were charged with an extra $12,000 this year.
“What I heard from the veterans, and I don't necessarily disagree with them, is that they didn't count on having to take out loans and things unless it was to supplement their own living expenses, so that was difficult for some of them to think, I had not intended to end up in debt at the conclusion of this degree and now I am.”
For in-state tuition you have to live in North Carolina for a year to establish residency. At least 10 states have changed legislation to make all veterans automatic residents. North Carolina is not one of them, even though there are nearly 800,000 veterans living here, and almost 17,000 access some form of the GI Bill, including Kai Bauer. He’s a veteran studying anthropology at UNCW, a field he says the military prepared him for.
“The travel, the exposure to different cultures, different countries, languages, different ceremonies and practices. I feel as an anthropologist I can help convey these understandings and maybe draw some relations and bridge the gap between our troops, the people in these countries that we're fighting conflicts or providing humanitarian support.”
Bauer served 15 years in the Army and National Guard in Washington State, where he returned after his second deployment in 2009. He moved to Wilmington in August to attend UNCW,and was set to graduate in the spring, before the tuition hike. Some of Bauer’s fellow student veterans have formed a nonprofit to fight for their benefits, including education. Jason Thigpen is the president of the group, and just a few weeks ago he was honored with a Purple Heart presented by Congressman Mike McIntyre.
Thigpen is working with McIntyre to add North Carolina to the list of states that automatically grant veterans residency status.
"Research shows that veterans are an investment in the future. You know North Carolina already grants in-state residency purposes to public school teachers as well as to UNC school system employees. Why not veterans?”
“There's no real reason to make a distinction between veterans being in-state and out-of-state, so our first priority is urging the state legislative level to allow the intent from the federal level to be carried out. But that can best and quickest be done by the state simply deciding not to charge out-of-state tuition to our veterans.”
During this time of uncertainty, Kai Bauer, the anthropology major, just received the good news that he’s been accepted into a vocational rehab program that will fully cover his tuition. But many other veterans are considering dropping out of school or moving to the state listed on their driver’s license even though they already consider North Carolina their home.
CORRECTION: On November 14, 2011, WHQR News aired a feature about residency and tuition issues facing North Carolina student veterans. We received misinformation that Veteran Kai Bauer was accepted into the VA’s vocational rehab program. We have since learned that Bauer’s application status is actually still pending. We apologize for the error.