Student veterans fight for in-state tuition

Veterans are having trouble using the GI Bill at state schools, if they’ve moved frequently, reports AP.  New rules that took effect in August say vets can collect up to $17,500 a year at private colleges but only the cost of in-state tuition at public institutions. That makes state residency an issue.

A Missouri native, Justin Curley was a medic in the Air Force. He left the service in 2009, settled in New Orleans and applied to the nursing program at Delgado Community College. Denied in-state status, he borrowed $3,000 a year to pay out-of-state tuition. But a friend persuaded him to protest.

“Essentially, because I constantly moved with the Air Force, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System is taking away the veterans benefits I rightfully earned in favor of unwritten policies that are left up to the discretion and judgment of the board and chancellor,” he wrote. “To me, that says I’m a resident of nowhere. All because of my service.”

In October, Curley met with newly installed Chancellor Monty Sullivan. Not only did Sullivan grant Curley the in-state rate, he refunded his money back to fall 2011.

The graduation rates of veterans using the GI Bill will be reported publicly, announced Eric Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs.

“The best measurements of success are completion rates,” Mr. Shinseki told a crowd of several hundred student veterans. “Degrees, certificates of completion, certifications, licensing—that to me is how you measure. Not who goes in the front door, but who completes the program.”

In the fall-2012 semester, 480,000 students were enrolled under the GI Bill, Shinseki said. The department will work with the National Student Clearinghouse to track graduation rates, reports the Chronicle of Higher EducationStudent Veterans of America, which has 700 campus chapters around the country, brokered the agreement.

Vets sign up for college, but how many graduate?

In three years, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has helped 860,000 vets go to school. But little is known about how veterans’ graduation or employment rates, reports NPR.

Most student veterans choose community colleges or for-profit colleges. At Cayuga Community College, a small school in rural, upstate New York, the number of vets went up by 400 percent after the new bill went into effect in 2009, says Sarah Yaw.

Many were the first in their families to go to college. She formed a consortium with other educators in the upstate area to provide special counseling for the new students.

There are no national statistics on veterans’ graduation rates, and that lack of data recently led to a slight panic among supporters.

Some press accounts cited information that said only 3 percent of vets were getting degrees. Veterans’ advocates quickly debunked that number, but it just pointed to a need for data.

Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, is working on a database to track nearly 1 million new student veterans, who’ve received $24 billion and counting in aid. The Department of Veterans Affairs also plans to track success rates.

However, education statistics that track “first-time, full-time students” leave out many veterans and other nontraditional students.

From combat to college

To protect veterans and service members from aggressive, dishonest college recruiters, President Obama signed an executive order last week requiring a “know before you owe” fact sheet, counseling on how to complete a degree and stronger oversight of improper recruitment practices.

Recently Student Veterans of America revoked charters for campus groups at 26 for-profit colleges, charging the groups were not started by student veterans and don’t provide “a community of individuals that share similar experiences.” Schools may be using fake SVA chapters to advertise themselves as “veteran friendly,” the group charges.

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill provided more than $7.7 billion for 555,000 veterans and dependents to attend college last year. Most choose community colleges or for-profit colleges.

However, most will not complete a degree, warns the Center for American Progress. Easing the Transition from Combat to Classroom suggests ways for colleges to help vets succeed.

Returning veterans often face myriad challenges when it comes to higher education, including reacquainting themselves with academic work, navigating complicated campus administrative systems, finding support services to meet their needs, encountering negative reactions from the campus community based on their participation in military conflicts, and having difficulty connecting with classmates and faculty.

The report helps colleges analyze whether they have the right veteran-support structures in place. It’s designed to work with the American Council on Education’s “Veteran Friendly Toolkit.”