A Pennsylvania House bill proposed in January would, if passed, deem all veterans, their spouses and dependent children eligible for in-state tuition rates at state-related and state-owned higher learning institutions and community colleges.
Pennsylvania House Bill 131, which has been in the education committee since Feb. 6, would provide an exception to the residency requirement for in-state tuition formerly established in the Post-9/11 GI bill.
If passed, all U.S. veterans would be eligible for in-state tuition rates at the state-related schools – Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Lincoln University and Temple – as well as the state’s 14 public universities.
“As a veteran myself, I think we should make sure that there aren’t these boundaries – when a veteran goes off and fights for the country, he’s not serving just New Jersey or Pennsylvania, he’s serving the country,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, State Rep. Stephen Barrar. Barrar, a Republican who serves the 160th district – which covers part of Chester and Delaware counties – served in the U.S. Navy from 1973-75.
“I think we need to take down the boundary between the U.S. and the states and make sure we get veterans where they need to go without the extra cost,” he added about the importance of the bill.
Student veteran Silas Adams, a senior finance and risk management major and the former president of the Temple Veterans Association, said the bill is an “amalgamation” of bills passed nationally, in states like Utah and Arizona, since 2011.
HB131 would work “in conjunction” with similar bills across the country, Adams said, to allow veterans a wider pool of higher learning institutions in which they can enroll.
“What [HB131] effectively is going to begin to do is inject competition into public universities in their recruitment and retention of student veterans,” Adams said.
Adams added that he believes recruiting veterans is a wise choice – both financially and otherwise – for universities, and the competition he said the bill could invoke between state-related universities could then deter veterans from attending universities that don’t suit their needs.
“We have a choice – I have a choice – of going to a very efficient school which has an inviting culture for a student veteran, like Arizona State, or I can go to an institution and figure out they don’t have the services I need, and … go somewhere else,” Adams said.
In order to gain standing in what he called the “nationwide market of recruiting veterans,” Adams said Temple needs to improve its student-veteran services.
Temple is a Yellow Ribbon school, which means that out-of-state student veterans with post-9/11 GI bill benefits at 100 percent differential cost from in-state students are eligible to receive 50 percent of their tuition from Temple and the other half from the United States Department of Federal Affairs. Both Adams and Debbie Campbell, the TVA faculty advisor, expressed concern over Temple’s lack of a veteran service center on Main Campus.
“I think a central location on [Main Campus] is vital to the dissemination of important information to any veteran, and we don’t have that here, so it’s very difficult to communicate to our population,” Adams said.
Campbell said many universities in the country have some sort of center for student veterans.
“We’ve requested space on campus,” Campbell said. “At one point we got the request back, and were told that there was space slotted somewhere, but that was a year and a half ago, and I still don’t know where that space is.”
“I don’t think it needs to be a big space,” she added. “But I think it needs to be a space. I think overall Temple does a good job, but there’s a couple of things we could do better.”
Adams said many veterans at Temple are also ill-informed of the Veterans Disability Compensation application process, through which veterans who have injuries or diseases from military service can attain tax-free health benefits.
“A lot of veterans will go ahead and forego the entire medical claim process until they’re done school, which hurts them even worse in the long run, because they’re dealing with things they may not know, and they need medical attention,” Adams said.
Adams said one of his professors recently requested an email from the dean of the Fox School of Business to excuse him from class for a veteran’s medical appointment.
“That shouldn’t occur,” Adams said. “That shouldn’t be such a process. I shouldn’t have to go to the dean.”
Campbell said that while many people at Temple are dedicated to helping the student-veteran population, like assistant registrar Lori Thompson, there are very few people on Main Campus who have allocated jobs toward veterans – the majority of Temple’s veteran task force is composed of volunteer staff.
“It’s interesting, because Temple was founded by a decorated civil war veteran,” Adams said. “So it’s sad to see that our university … has steered away from that population.”
“But the house bill will change something like that,” he added. “Because we don’t have to take it anymore. We can go anywhere we want.”
Claire Sasko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.