If you, your spouse or your parents are in the military (or used to be), you may qualify for certain college benefits. However, not every aspect of service members' college rights are easy to understand, so we took the three most common questions we've received on the subject and researched them.
Check out these three frequently-asked questions, along with expert answers -- keep in mind, however, that these responses are based on broad regulations, and every situation is different, so contacting your goal college is essential.
1. What Is My State of Residency?
We all know that the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates can be significant, and military families may move from one state to another for their careers. As many people are aware, some states have time requirements on residency (often a year or so) before the student can get in-state tuition. However, that's not necessarily the case for active duty service members.
The reality is that public colleges must charge military members, spouses and dependent children in-state rates as long as the service member has been on active duty for over 30 days and is stationed in the state where the public university is located.
In Black and White: “In the case of a member of the armed forces who is on active duty for a period of more than 30 days and whose domicile or permanent duty station is in a state that receives assistance under this Act, such state shall not charge such member (or the spouse or dependent child of such member) tuition for attendance at a public institution of higher education in the state at a rate that is greater than the rate charged for residents of the state," the Higher Education Opportunity Act states.
In addition, the Act adds, once the student begins paying in-state tuition, the college must continue to offer that rate to the student, even if the service member is relocated.
Plus, most states allow you to keep in-state residency in your state of legal residence as well, as long as you maintain legal ties there despite being stationed in a different state.
In Black and White: The website of the University of Washington states, “Washington residents, who enter the military while domiciled in Washington or established a domicile while stationed in Washington for a period of at least one year, will remain residents while being stationed outside of Washington if they:
- Return within one year (12 months) of discharge/end of service with the intent to be domiciled in Washington.
- Maintain all legal ties in Washington."
Tip: To ensure your target college is on board with the regulations, always contact the school in question to confirm.
2. Who Qualifies for In-State Residency Everywhere?
A reader saw our recent profile of a student who gets in-state tuition in the entire US due to her parent's military service and asked how that's possible. The reason is that the Veterans Choice, Access and Accountability Act of 2014 allows veterans who have been discharged within the last three years to get in-state tuition in every state. These benefits can be transferred to dependents through the Post-9/11 GI Bill as long as you meet the transfer criteria.
According to the Choice Act, the benefits apply to: “(1) veterans who were discharged or released from at least 90 days of active service less than three years before their date of enrollment in the applicable course, (2) family members eligible for such assistance due to their relationship to such veterans, and (3) courses that commence on or after July 1, 2015."
3. Does the Above Rule Apply to Families of Active Duty Military Members?
One reader wrote to College Confidential and asked whether this provision would apply to the children of active duty military. “The Act says the service member needs to have been discharged within the last three years, but does this still apply if the service member remains on active duty?" she asked.
The state of North Carolina specifically calls out active duty as being covered, as noted below:
Under the Choice Act, a “covered individual" meets these qualifications (relevant section bolded by College Confidential):
- A Veteran, dependent of a veteran, or a spouse/child using benefits under the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship
- “Lives" in the state in which the institution of higher learning is located, regardless of his/her formal state of residence
- Enrolls in the institution within three years of the veteran's discharge from active-duty service, or in the case of the Fry Scholarship, within three years of the service member's death in the line of duty, OR
- The dependent or spouse of an active duty service member enrolled in the institution while using transferred Ch33 Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, or, benefits under the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship
However, California leaves it vague on its website and does not refer to active duty at all -- instead, the state refers students to the individual campuses:
"Veterans and their eligible dependents who are nonresidents of California may be eligible for a nonresident tuition exemption at UC if they are eligible for education benefits under Chapter 30 or 33 of the GI bill, and if they or their veteran sponsor have been discharged from active duty within 36 months of enrolling at UC. Check with campus registrars offices for more information."
College Confidential contacted the veterans coordinator at UCLA, who told us, "As long as you're using the GI bill and you've separated from service within the last 36 months or you're still on active duty, you are eligible for the in-state tuition benefit."
Hopefully this is similar in every state, but be sure to contact the colleges where you're applying to confirm that this is the case.
If you'd like to submit a question to College Confidential, please send it along here.