A bill that would create more flexibility for veterans and their families to receive in-state tuition rates at universities and community colleges has made its way to the Arizona House of Representatives after receiving approval in the Senate.
Senate Bill 1115 would provide in-state tuition rates to veterans' spouses and dependent children, as well as veterans and service members with a service-connected disability that prevents them from working. The bill would also remove the requirement for veterans using GI Bill benefits to enroll in higher education within three years after military discharge in order to be able to use in-state tuition rates.
The bill would allow those stationed in Arizona, their spouses and their dependents to receive in-state tuition once they are admitted to the University, provided that the person stationed in Arizona has been a resident there for 12 months before they, their spouse or dependent enrolls. As long as the student is continuously enrolled as they work toward their degree, they will not lose their in-state status.
Out-of-state students at ASU pay almost $19,000 more in tuition than in-state students.
The bill was written to allow Arizona legislation to match changes in military-benefit policy made at the federal level. The Biden administration passed the Col. John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act in November 2021 and Isakson and Roe Veterans Health Care and Improvement Act in January 2021, which requires military benefit policy changes at the state level by July 2022.
The bill has advanced out of Senate committees including rules and education.
Bill encourages more military dependent, spouse enrollment
Jeffery Guimarin, the executive director of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center who served in the U.S. Air Force for 25 years, said ASU’s veteran dependent population has grown significantly over the past three years and the passage of the bill could contribute to that growth.
Military dependents, which consists of people financially relying on a member of the military, currently make up 17% of the University's military-affiliated population.
Shawn Banzhaf, the assistant director of student success for the Pat Tillman Veterans Center and a graduate student studying sociology, said one of the largest populations of ASU dependents are children who use a parent’s GI benefits. Yet, the current legislature, without the updates provided by the bill, can make it difficult for parents to pass on these benefits.
“What if they're not old enough? What if they're not going to start college for five years and I get out (for) three years and we're lost?” said Banzhaf, who served in the Army National Guard for 21 years.
The bill would relieve pressure for people who are not ready to pay for higher education, need time to adjust to civilian life or want to build sustainable savings since the GI Bill’s housing allowance is “hard to live off of,” Banzhaf said.
“That just takes away that stress, and you're going to see veterans that maybe have been out (of the military) a little while deciding not to come to school,” Banzhaf said.
Military spouses tend to not have the opportunity to “pursue their own education" Guimarin said. He believes access to in-state tuition rates would help military spouses explore their career options.
“They've had a ride that they didn't always choose, and it's great to see them recognized as somebody that both the state and the federal level want to help and clear some pathways and allow them the access to do this,” Guimarin said.
Braden Allenby, the founding chair of ASU’s Consortium for Emerging Technologies, Military Operations and National Security, said policy related to receiving military benefits and other financial aid is “complex.” As a result, Allenby, who is a professor of law and engineering, said it is important that universities help “make it as simple as possible to deal with bureaucracy” for all students.
Bill eases obstacles for veteran students
Guimarin said some student veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life because they no longer have the “clearly defined roles and expectations” that were provided during their time in the military.
“That kind of sets a different mentality and a structure to their life, that all of a sudden when they don't have that, it feels like kind of floating in space,” Guimarin said.
Wyatt Russell, a sophomore studying computer science who works at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, said he joined the army under the impression that it would give him a “free education.”
“I think a lot of people sign up kind of under a misconception of I can go literally anywhere I want on the GI Bill, and everything will be paid for, which isn't always the case,” Russell said. “This (bill), I guess, gets closer to meeting those goals and those desires of the people who are in it for the education.”
Guimarin said a majority of ASU’s military population is around 31 years old. Since this age tends to come with more financial responsibilities, Guimarin said access to in-state tuition rates would be beneficial for this population.
Allenby said the bill would be the “right thing to do” in order to properly cater to the military community.
“That's part of being a university that is veteran-friendly, is understanding that those issues are part and package of managing that student cohort,” Allenby said.
Alexis Waiss is an assignment editor and senior reporter, covering breaking news and writing long-form stories. Alexis worked on SP's politics desk for a year, where she reported on the Legislature, higher education policy, student government, the city of Tempe and stories highlighting social justice. She previously worked as a fellow for the Asian American Journalist Association's VOICES program.