Pennsylvania expands education benefits for veterans
July 6, 2015 12:00 AM
“It’s a good move to make,” U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy said.
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Military personnel can be assigned to serve around the globe, but when veterans come to Pennsylvania, out-of-state tuition and fees in higher education can be a financial burden.
That won’t be the case anymore, thanks to a new state law that took effect Wednesday. Pennsylvania was required by a new federal law — called the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 — to provide such access to certain veterans, but the state version goes further than required.
The federal law was scheduled to take effect July 1, but the federal government has delayed its enforcement by six months. Most states are already in compliance.
“It’s a good move to make,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who is a reservist. “When we passed the federal law, we wanted to recognize the veterans who may be placed anywhere in the world who are moving back into a region.”
The federal law applies to those covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty at public institutions who enroll within three years of active duty service of 90 days or more or a spouse or dependent using transferred benefits within three years of discharge. The state law does not limit the time to enroll, covers four categories of educational benefits and provides not just an in-state rate but an in-county rate for veterans at community colleges.
Typically, colleges have a one-year residency requirement, as well as some other conditions to prove residency, to receive in-state tuition.
The new state law provides in-state tuition for veterans who are eligible for certain educational benefits as well as their spouses and dependent children. It also continues to cover active military and civilian personnel stationed, assigned or transferred to Pennsylvania, including spouses and dependent children.
In the state law, a veteran is defined as “an individual who served in the United States Armed Forces, including a reserve component or National Guard and who was discharged or released from service under conditions other than dishonorable.”
State-related universities are the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, Temple University and Lincoln University. The 14 state-owned universities include California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock.
At Community College of Allegheny County, Dwight Boddorf, director of military and veterans services, said the change will save students thousands of dollars. At community colleges, qualifying students will be charged the in-state, in-county rate. That means they will pay $104.75 per credit rather than $209.50 per credit for in-state, out-of-county, or $314.25 for out-of-state.
Mr. Boddorf said CCAC is using a broad standard, offering the in-county tuition to those who can prove they are veterans, active duty or reservists as well as their spouses and dependent children. “We just want to make it as easy as possible for those affiliated with the military to attend college at a reduced rate,” he said.
“Our military and veterans do so much for the country and the community, and the unfortunate byproduct of that is they have to move around a lot,” said Mr. Boddorf, who was a Marine.
CCAC now enrolls more than 1,000 military veterans and their dependents, but Mr. Boddorf expects that number to grow, noting some may not have declared their status before they could receive the price break. In addition, he said the recent U.S. Supreme Court affirming same-sex marriage also means that some partners of veterans who previously were not eligible for federal education benefits now are.
In the State System of Higher Education, the board of governors of the state-owned universities last week approved a policy to comply with the new law.
At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Tiffanie Fordyce, veterans affairs coordinator, said 433 students in the spring term were using veterans benefits, 20 of them from out-of-state.
Some veterans’ educational benefits cover in-state tuition, but the veterans have had to pay the additional amount for out-of-state students on their own. Ms. Fordyce said that amounts to about $5,700 additional per term or about $3,000 additional per term if the student is a resident of certain states, including Ohio, New York and West Virginia.
California University of Pennsylvania is in the midst of a pricing flexibility pilot for its Global Online Program that applies to active military and their spouses and dependents. It provides a discount, charging $250 per credit for undergraduate and $399 per credit for graduate students, compared with the standard rates of $284 and $454, respectively.
The number of veterans in the program grew more than expected, from 303 in 2013-14 to 456 in 2014-15.
The fiscal note by the state House Committee on Appropriations on the state bill said the schools may lose some tuition revenue on the one hand but might attract more students on the other.
While the latest laws cover public institutions, other tuition assistance programs for qualifying veterans exist at private institutions. Robert Morris University, for example, which has more than 250 veterans, is part of the Yellow Ribbon program that helps to see that full private tuition is paid for qualifying veterans.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.
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