These are challenging times for members of today’s military. Not only are servicemen and women being called upon for extended combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but those on the home front are also being asked to lengthen their careers and, in some cases, even being called back to active duty from the Reserves.
With this context in mind, it is disturbing that military families can’t even seem to get a break when it comes to tuition policies at state colleges and universities.
In 2002, a U.S. Army-formed working group examining the in-state tuition policies of states found that most, but not all, provide in-state tuition rates to military families when they are stationed in state.
The working group recommended an “ideal” in-state tuition policy that would provide:
- in-state tuition for military members and their families in the state of legal residence;
- in-state tuition for military and family in the state of assignment; and
- continuity for the above tuition benefits once they have started (because the military often moves its families from state to state).
While one way to accomplish the creation of this uniform policy would be through federal mandate, it is encouraging to see that most states have now adopted these three components as part of their own deliberations, with the notable exception of Virginia and a few others.
Virginia is deserving of special scrutiny on this topic because it is the second ranked state in the entire nation when it comes to military dollars invested, trailing only California. In fact, of the states in the top ten for military investments, only Virginia and California do not follow all three of the recommended guidelines above. And California’s transgression is relatively minor, as it does allow for in-state tuition in state of residence and state of assignment, and it does offer continuity, but only for one year, as opposed to the entirety of a course of study toward a degree.
It is somewhat encouraging that six of the top 10 states in military investment have changed their policies within the past two years, so that all three of the criteria above are met. Those states are (in order of the amount of military investment): Texas, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Connecticut and Washington. And two other states which are highly ranked recipients of military investment, Florida and Arizona, have met the above criteria for even longer.
Now is the time for all states, especially Virginia and California, to adopt a consistent, three-pronged policy that would mandate in-state tuition for residents and assignees, as well as offer continuity once higher education has become. This seems the least we can do back on the home front for the millions of men and women who are serving our country in uniform.