New laws seek to aid veterans' education
Thanks to a federal bill passed in 2014, veterans attending any public university can now pay in-state tuition regardless of where they live.
The bill, titled the “Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014,” is seeing its effects take root at Rutgers. The “New Jersey Tuition Equality for America’s Military Act” sets the tuition limit within the state.
The state bill, signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Monday, is a response to the federal law, said Stephen Abel, director of the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services at the University.
“The federal law says that the veterans should be given in-state tuition at all (public) colleges and universities in the U.S,” he said. “... But setting tuition is outside the jurisdiction of the federal government.”
Federal law mandates that states tell public universities to charge in-state tuition rates to veterans, he said. States that do not do so will lose federal funding for their higher education institutions.
This is similar to the federal government enactment of a seatbelt law in the 1960s, he said. At the time, the federal government threatened to withhold highway funding if a state did not implement a seatbelt law within its borders.
Any former active-duty service member with an honorable discharge qualifies for this bill, said Mike Delamater, legislative director for Assemblyman Joseph Lagana, one of the sponsors on the bill.
“The bill will also allow certain other individuals (to take advantage),” he said. “So a veteran’s spouse or child (can also apply).”
Though veterans are the most visible group the law helps, active-duty members could also take advantage of it, said Assemblyman Robert Andrzejczak, a sponsor of the bill.
This would help service members who are deployed to a New Jersey base, but who do not otherwise live in the state, said Andrzejczak, a former Army Sergeant.
The University helped draft the state law, said Abel, a retired Army colonel. Members from the Office of Veterans Services worked with the counsel to create a bill which could implement the federal law.
This bill was then redrafted by state legislators to fit the language of other New Jersey bills, he said.
Though this law would force public universities to charge in-state tuition rates for veterans, many already at Rutgers would not see a change in their term bill, he said.
“(Rutgers) signed up for the (Department of Veteran Affairs) Yellow Ribbon Program,” he said. “The VA has been paying half the out-of-state tuition.”
This means that the majority of student veterans at the University were already being charged in-state rates, he said. The University would continue to work with the Yellow Ribbon Program for veterans who are not covered by the new laws.
Under the state law, only veterans who lived in New Jersey while attending a university would qualify for the in-state rates, Delamater said.
Veterans who lived out of state but commuted to New Jersey schools, such as Rowan University or Rutgers-Camden, would ordinarily be charged out-of-state prices, he said. The wording in the state law is designed to match the parameters set by the federal law.
The University would try to charge in-state rates instead, Abel said.
The new laws would likely have a very minor financial impact on the University, he said. Supporters of the law hope more veterans come to Rutgers as a result.
The state law fits in with the state’s history of helping its service members, Abel said. More importantly, that history and the federal law would help recognize that veterans are asked to serve the nation and not an individual state when they are deployed into battle.
Making college affordable for veterans is just one of many bills that exist to help former service members, Delamater said.
“I think that on a much broader scale, that as (the current) wars come to a close or are over already, we need to put money into taking care of our veterans,” he said.
This bill could also help current service members advance within the ranks of their respective branch, Andrzejczak said.
A college education helps enlisted service members who wish to commission as United States military officers.
“I really hope veterans take advantage (of this bill) and pursue higher education,” he said.