Yesterday I covered what I call “College IPB” – how to determine if a college is right for you, what kind of questions to ask, and where to look for those answers. Today, I’m going to go in-depth on one of the issues that tripped up a good number of my students and caused many of them to have to drop out, go to a difference college, or pay off mountains of debt. Namely, the difference between home of record and residency, specifically residency for tuition purposes.
When we join the military, our “home of record” is the place that we were rooted to when we took the oath. For those who enlist, it is generally the same state in which they approached their recruiter. For those who seek a commission through ROTC or other means, it is generally wherever they claimed residency before applying to college or where they lived prior to starting OCS. Once that home of record is set, it is, with one tiny exception for enlisted members, your home of record for the duration of your military service. Even if you get a local driver’s license or you register your vehicle in Germany because your command requires it or you choose to only insure your car in California, where you are stationed, because that is cheaper than insuring it in both California and your home state, your home of record doesn’t change. Unfortunately, your residency, especially for tuition purposes, can and generally does.
Your home of record is good as long as you are on active duty and protected by the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which is a federal law that provides members of the Armed Forces special privileges and exemptions regarding civil actions. You may have seen this in the form of a clause in your rental agreement allowing you to hit the eject button on your lease should you receive unanticipated PCS orders during the term of your lease or in the limit that your credit card company could charge you in interest while on active duty. The SCRA is also why active duty members who are stationed in Maryland but have a home-of-record in Montana could attend college in Maryland at the in state rate and why their spouses and children could too. It is also why a Nevada resident stationed in Alaska could still attend a Nevada school while on active duty and be considered an in-state student.
However, while some provisions of the SCRA extend beyond your date of separation, sometimes up to 90 or 180 days, much of the SCRA stops on your date of separation. And this is where the problems begin. Once you leave active duty and become a veteran, your “home of record” no longer applies. Now you have to meet the same rules as other civilians for requirements like “tuition for residency purposes” and that isn’t always easy for a newly separated servicemember.
For example, many states, such as Florida and California, require that you have physically been a resident for 366 days before you can qualify for residency for tuition purposes. These two states also require that you cut all ties with other states and demonstrate the intent to make that state your state of residency, such as by transferring your driver’s license and registering your vehicle or purchasing a home. These are not exactly easy items to accomplish while you are also trying to outprocess your unit, find a new home and a new job, transfer health insurance, and all of the other administrative requirements that civilian life entails.
So what happens if you can’t establish residency for tuition purposes? You have to pay higher tuition and fee rates. In some cases, these higher rates, sometimes referred to as “out-of-state tuition and fees” or “supplemental tuition and fee rates” are as much as three times the rates residents pay and VA will no longer pay out of state fees, except in certain Vocational Rehabilitation instances. Even if you supplement your Post-9/11 or other VA education benefits with PELL grant and other financial aid, you could find yourself deep in debt to the college. So what can you do to avoid this costly situation?
1) Do your College IPB, as outlined in yesterday’s post, and determine what the residency for tuition purposes requirements are for the school you wish to go to. This can usually be found on the admissions page.
2) Check with your school’s veterans services office or the VA school certifying official to see if the school offers any work arounds, such as tuition waivers for veterans or using your DD-214 to establish residency, that supplement their standard residency policy.
- These “work arounds” are usually good for those veterans who have very recently left active duty and generally will not help anyone who has been off of active duty more than six months to a year.
3) Begin establishing your “residency” in accordance with that state’s residency requirements. Be sure to start this about 15 months out, as many states require a minimum of one year, or 366 days, of “residency” before you can qualify for the in-state tuition rates.
- Alternatively, you can try and line up your application process with your terminal leave so you still have the SCRA protections. However, keep in mind that this may work initially but you should still proceed with establishing residency requirements in case you have to prove your residency in the future, which is entirely likely.
4) Apply to the school and provide the required residency documentation.
5) Check in with your school 1-3 months before your date of separation to make sure there haven’t been any policy or law changes that would require additional steps.
One other thing to keep in mind: unlike “home-of-record,” which is a onetime deal that doesn’t change, residency may have to be proven yearly to a college and/or after any break in training, such as a term or year off. Therefore, even if you establish residency under the SCRA provisions or use your DD-214 to get a special work around when you are first admitted to the college, you need to go ahead and start the process of establishing residency the way other students do in case you have to prove it again in the future.
Also, Student Veterans of America have been lobbying hard to try and get colleges in all states to give veterans in-state tuition rates based on their veteran status. To see what they are doing and to see if they have been successful in your state, you can click here.
Update 8/13/2015: Because of the Choice Act, there are new requirements for states regarding in-state tuition rates for veterans, and those using transferred benefits. You can read more about how this impacts you, and see which states are currently in compliance with the new requirements here: http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/702.asp
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