USA Today College
Since the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill went into effect in 2009, more than 1.5 million veterans have taken advantage of the legislation to help cover the costs of a college education. But it's not always a quick and easy road to an affordable degree.
The bill covers veterans' college tuition at public colleges and universities up to the in-state tuition amount.
If veterans choose to attend college in a state where they haven't established residency, they have two choices: pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition or prolong their college registration until they officially are a resident, which in some states can take up to a year.
Since 2009, there has been more than a 17% increase in the number of veterans using their G.I. Bill benefits. As this number grows, some states are trying to change the residency requirement.
The fight for in-state tuition for veterans started in 2009, with just a handful of states passing legislation, says Chris Cate, director of research at the Student Veterans of America.
Now, 20 states have passed some sort of legislation or policy waiving the in-state residency requirement, according to the Student Veterans of America.
These states allow veterans to attend college at the in-state price, without waiting to establish residency, ensuring that the G.I. Bill can cover the price of their education.
Florida is one of nine states with legislation pending. Its bill would allow veterans to qualify as residents for tuition purposes.
Forcing veterans to wait to start their education or to pay the tuition difference isn't fair, says Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Fla., who introduced the bill in September.
"They have put ... their education and their career on hold to defend our freedom," she says. "Why should we make them wait 12 months until they can afford it?"
A similar bill was defeated in the Florida legislature last year. It ultimately failed because education policies for illegal immigrants also were folded into the bill, Peters says.
Yet she says she's confident that the current bill, which must still go through several committees before it can be brought to a vote early next year, will pass if it remains "a true veteran bill."
Student veterans aren't the only ones to benefit from such legislation, says Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fla., the prime co-sponsor of the pending Florida bill. Universities and colleges can benefit from having more veterans on campus, she says.
"Our institutions of higher learning will benefit from having the kind of leadership and the kind of character in the classroom that a veteran will bring," she says. "It will just bring a lot of diversity into the classroom."
After serving nearly 10 years in the Army National Guard including a year in Iraq in 2004, Gabe Sevigny, 29, is now studying environmental design at his dream school, the University of Oklahoma. Residency requirements didn't affect Sevigny, but he says waiving the residency requirements would benefit both veterans and colleges.
"There's a different level of experiences that you're getting from veterans," Sevigny says. "(Veterans) have this different level of experience and stories that they can kind of share."
Earlier this year, the Veterans Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives considered the G.I.Bill
Tuition Fairness Act of 2013, which would require public schools nationwide to charge veterans in-state tuition in order for the school to be eligible to receive G.I. Bill payments. The legislation has yet to be scheduled for a vote.
Ultimately, a nationwide bill giving veterans in-state tuition rates would be an ideal solution, according to Cate of the Student Veterans of America. .
"Having that across-the-board ease with all 50 states and the District of Columbia will make it easier for student veterans to figure out how much they will be paying for their college education."
Jenn Smola is a senior at Miami University.