No vote on veteran tuition bill spurs UNCW students to sue
Published: Thursday, June 28, 2012
Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2012 20:06
The General Assembly postponed the vote on a bill to reduce tuition costs for student veterans for a year, and UNCW students are more than disappointed.
They’re broke and filing a federal lawsuit.
After the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which funds college education for veterans, was changed from paying all tuition to only in-state tuition, many vets took out thousands in student loans to cover the difference.
Normally, student veterans wouldn’t have to pay a dime. Tuition is covered, housing is covered; they’re even given a stipend for student expenses – but only for residents of North Carolina.
The bill would have declared all veterans and their dependents living in North Carolina as residents, regardless of how long they’ve lived here.
The Student Veteran’s Advocacy Group (SVAG), founded by UNCW student Jason Thigpen, has been advising students all over NC in their residency hearings at state universities for a year (Click the link to see the original story). Veterans couldn’t receive in-state tuition, even after living here for years, because they had maintained their out-of-state residency while serving.
Some student vets weren’t considered residents in any state, even their home state.
“One of the people who was denied residency last year is now filing for bankruptcy,” said Thigpen. “Another is going to Cape Fear (Community College) instead until he can establish residency at UNCW. He’s considered a resident there.”
The SVAG is planning to file a federal lawsuit against the State of North Carolina and the UNC system this summer and will resume work on pushing federal legislation in September.
Many student vets are angry that the funding for their education, promised to them upon joining the military, has been taken away upon their return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s like going to the bank and having to beg for money out of your own account,” said Thigpen.
Thom Rakes, chair of the Campus Residency Appeals Board, said the changes to the GI Bill “caught a lot of veterans who didn’t realize the change was coming, and it caught them by surprise.”
He said UNCW would focus on educating the student veterans on the rules in the fall: the website for student veterans has been updated to reduce confusion. Last semester, the appeals board was criticized for not being clear how much documentation was required to obtain residency on their website.
“There are a lot of stories going around about what residency is," said Rakes. "We can help the folks get a real idea what the residency regulations really are.”
Ann Marie Beall, director of military admissions for UNCW, is still positive about the state bill moving forward.
“The General Assembly did not take the bill up," said Beall. "On the bad side, it doesn’t look good for the next year. But on the good side, it didn’t fail. At least there is still hope for it.”
Until new legislation is passed, on the state or federal level, student veterans at UNC system schools will continue to apply for residency. According to the UNCW website for establishing residency, this requires that students establish a “bona fide domicile in North Carolina 12 months before the beginning of the term.” Students must provide evidence that supports an intent to make NC their permanent home, and also contend they are not in NC solely to attend college. Students must have lived in NC for at least 12 consecutive months.
For more information regarding the residency requirements, visit Residency FAQs.