Forward Observer — Punishing the Higher Education System for Veterans – The Pennsylvania Way

LVMAC Poster Art 2005Effective 1 July 2015, a little mentioned section of the Veterans Access, Choice, And Accountability Act of 2014 signed into law by the President on 7 August will have huge consequences to Pennsylvania’s public institutions of higher learning.  It may well affect the well-being of about 25,000 veterans who are students and up to $300 million in state revenues from the federal government to Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher learning.

Section 702 of that law states:

 … the Secretary shall disapprove a course of education provided by a public institution of higher learning to a covered individual pursuing a course of education with educational assistance under chapter 30 [Montgomery GI Bill] or 33 [Post 9/11 GI Bill] of this title [38 U.S.C.] while living in the State in which the public institution of higher learning is located if the institution charges tuition and fees for that course for the covered individual at a rate that is higher than the rate the institution charges for tuition and fees for that course for residents of the State in which the institution is located, regardless of the covered individual’s State of residence …

… If after enrollment in a course of education that is subject to disapproval … a covered individual pursues one or more courses of education at the same public institution of higher learning while remaining continuously enrolled (other than during regularly scheduled breaks between courses, semesters or terms) at that institution of higher learning, any course so pursued by the covered individual at that institution of higher learning while so continuously enrolled shall also be subject to disapproval

… a covered individual is any individual as follows:

    (A) A veteran who was discharged or released from a period of not fewer than 90 days of service in the active military, naval, or air service less than three years before the date of enrollment in the course concerned.

   (B) An individual who is entitled to assistance under section 3311(b)(9) or 3319 of this title by virtue of such individual’s relationship to a veteran described in subparagraph (A).

 … It shall not be grounds to disapprove a course of education … if a public institution of higher learning requires a covered individual pursuing a course of education at the institution to demonstrate an intent, by means other than satisfying a physical presence requirement, to establish residency in the State in which the institution is located, or to satisfy other requirements not relating to the establishment of residency, in order to be charged tuition and fees for that course at a rate that is equal to or less than the rate the institution charges for tuition and fees for that course for residents of the State …

To reiterate, the new law requires the VA to disapprove courses of education provided by public institutions of higher learning that charge tuition and fees at more than the in-state resident rate for those veterans within three years from discharge after having served at least 90 days on active duty, irrespective of the veteran’s current state of residence and length of residence, if the veteran is living in the state in which the institution resides; and this condition continues to apply for the duration the veteran remains continuously enrolled at the institution. The law also applies to the dependents of veterans using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

The significant change is any payment to the institution for tuition and fees is dependent on its in-state tuition policy. If a public institution of higher learning establishes its tuition rates for a course of education (e.g. a degree) based upon residency status, the VA will no longer pay, regardless of the veteran’s residency status.  Previously, the VA would pay for the course of education up to the in-state tuition rate for the Post 9/11 GI Bill or whatever the Montgomery GI Bill allowed, if that were used.  No longer.  Yet, truthfully, the problem does not truly lie with our state schools of higher education, though both they and their veterans will be affected, but with our state government, for it decides their residency requirements.

PA Dept. of Education LogoIn its failing to act quickly and decisively to waive its one-year residency requirement for an in-state tuition rate on the behalf of veterans — despite pleas since at least 2009 (H.B. 1054) by returning veterans and veterans organizations – the new federal law becomes a financial game changer for our public universities, colleges and community colleges.  The state government’s tarrying has been a roadblock for many honorably discharged veterans seeking to transition readjust and improve themselves as quickly as possible for the purpose of becoming productive citizens.  It now puts another financial strain on its public universities and colleges.

To conclude, while at least twenty-six other state governments have seen the light, ours continues to discourage our military veterans from returning to or residing in the Commonwealth and encourages increase to their educational debts when they do enter the state.  More than the Commonwealth’s working at cross-purposes with the intent of the GI Bill legislation past and present — no small point — is now involved, however.  Our state government is about to hurt our state higher educational system’s revenue stream.  Both affect our Commonwealth’s future prosperity.

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RJH
9 August 2014
10 August 2014 (general statistical estimates added)
20 August 2014 (typo,  “Effective” replaces “Retroactive” in lead sentence)

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