Sometimes, laws are written in such a way that they’re really hard to understand exactly what they are say. One subject that is very confusing is what the law says about in-state residency for purposes of college tuition when the student is an active duty dependent using transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. I have seen a lot of misinformation on this subject, and so I finally went to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for their answer. This is going to get a little long, and a little technical, but please bear with me. I’m trying to make this as easy to understand as possible, and I’ll give you the short and simple answer at the end.
Why Is It So Confusing?
The crux of the problem is that just reading one part of the rules doesn’t provide the entire picture. I have people tell me ALL. THE. TIME that the Section 417 of the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 extends in-state, resident tuition rates to any and all active duty dependents who are using transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill funds for their education, regardless of where they go to school.
So, let’s go see what that says – it’s an amendment to a previous law, so it doesn’t make much sense on it’s own:
SEC. 417. TECHNICAL AMENDMENT RELATING TO IN-STATE TUITION RATE FOR INDIVIDUALS TO WHOM ENTITLEMENT IS TRANSFERRED UNDER ALL-VOLUNTEER FORCE EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM AND POST-9/11 EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE.
(a) TECHNICAL AMENDMENT.—Subparagraph (B) of section 3679(c)(2) is amended to read as follows:
‘‘(B) An individual who is entitled to assistance under—
‘‘(i) section 3311(b)(9) of this title; or
‘‘(ii) section 3319 of this title by virtue of the individual’s relationship to—
‘‘(I) a veteran described in subparagraph (A);
‘‘(II) a member of the uniformed services described in section 3319(b) of this title who is serving on active duty.’’
(b) APPLICABILITY.—The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply with respect to a course, semester, or term that begins after July 1, 2017.
As you can see, this is completely useless by itself, which is why we have to go back to the law that was being amended. That’s the U.S. Code, Title 38 Veterans’ Benefits, Part III Readjustment and Related Benefits, Chapter 36 Administration of Education Benefits, Subchapter I State Approving Agencies, Section 3679 Disapproval of Courses.
In subsection C of the law, it says (emphasis mine):
(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter and subject to paragraphs (3) through (6), the Secretary shall disapprove a course of education provided by a public institution of higher learning if the institution charges tuition and fees for that course for covered individuals who are pursuing the course with educational assistance under chapter 30, 31, or 33 of this title while living in the State in which the institution is located at a rate that is higher than the rate the institution charges for tuition and fees for that course for residents of the State in which the institution is located, regardless of the covered individual’s State of residence.
(2) For purposes of this subsection, a covered individual is any individual as follows:
(A) A veteran who was discharged or released from a period of not fewer than 90 days of service in the active military, naval, or air service less than three years before the date of enrollment in the course concerned.
(B) An individual who is entitled to assistance under—
(i) section 3311(b)(9) of this title; or
(ii) section 3319 of this title by virtue of the individual’s relationship to—
(I) a veteran described in subparagraph (A); or
(II) a member of the uniformed services described in section 3319(b) of this title who is serving on active duty.
If you read just the parts I’ve emphasized, it looks like it says that if the student is entitled to assistance (educational benefits) based upon their relationship with a member of the uniformed services who is serving on active duty, then the Secretary (of the VA) will disapprove their educational course if they charge you tuition and fees that are more than the tuition and fees charged to residents of that state. Which would mean that if you’re using transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and the sponsor is still on active duty, you should get in-state rates anywhere – right? That’s the argument that I’m hearing. And it makes sense, except that
You’ve Got To Keep Reading
As with any law, you have to read the whole thing and understand how the parts work together.
If you read further down in the same law, just two paragraphs later, it says (emphasis mine):
(4) It shall not be grounds to disapprove a course of education under paragraph (1) if a public institution of higher learning requires a covered individual pursuing a course of education at the institution to demonstrate an intent, by means other than satisfying a physical presence requirement, to establish residency in the State in which the institution is located, or to satisfy other requirements not relating to the establishment of residency, in order to be charged tuition and fees for that course at a rate that is equal to or less than the rate the institution charges for tuition and fees for that course for residents of the State.
What does that mean in plain English? The GI Bill website has interpreted this pretty clearly (emphasis mine):
“Am I eligible for the resident rate for tuition and fees?
It depends on your school’s policy and rules:
By law, schools are allowed to have additional requirements that must be met in order for a “covered individual” to be charged the resident rate for tuition and fees.
Also, some schools grant the resident rates to students with military connections (current or former member of the Armed Forces, or dependents of current or former members of the Armed Forces) regardless of whether they are “covered individuals.”
Therefore, you should contact your school to learn more about their rules and requirements for charging tuition and fees. Your school will review your particular situation and determine if you will be charged the resident rate. You may access the contact information for your school and search by state or territory.”
This further part of the law says that while active duty dependents using transferred benefits are considered “covered individuals” for this law, the schools may have additional requirements in order to grant you in-state (resident) tuition. These laws may or may not be related to showing intent to be a permanent resident of that state. The law specifically does not grant you in-state (resident) tuition solely because you’re using transferred GI Bill benefits.
What The VA Says On The Subject
This is still confusing for a lot of people, and I was having a little trouble explaining it in a way that was easy to understand. So I reached out to my friends at the VA and asked them this specific question:
“Does the law guarantee in-state tuition in any state, without any qualification, for children and spouses of actively serving military members who are using transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits?”
Here was the VA’s response:
“As written, the law does not guarantee in-state tuition without any qualifications for children and spouses of actively serving military members who are using transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. While these beneficiaries are “covered individuals” under the law and do not have to establish residency in the state in which the public institution of higher learning (IHL) he or she is attending is located, the law also states that there may be additional requirements not relating to the establishment of residency that the public IHL may have/require.”
But My School Gives In-State Tuition Because I’m Using The GI Bill
I think one of the sources of confusion is that some schools are more generous than the federal law requires. Some schools do offer in-state tuition to folks using GI Bill benefits without any further qualifications. It’s really nice of those states and/or schools to give that benefit, but they’re doing it because of their own internal laws or policies, not because the federal law requires it.
But if your friend (or a random person on Facebook) says, “My daughter is getting in-state tuition because she is using the GI Bill,” it’s easy for that to be misinterpreted into, “using the GI Bill means that you get in-state tuition.”
What About Veterans and Their Dependents?
If you read the same laws above, you see that veterans within 36 months of discharge, and their dependents, fall under the same rules. Basically, the law requires schools to waive the physical presence portion of the residency requirement, but permits schools to enforce other portions of the requirements for in-state residency. This law was initially designed only for veterans and was meant to give recently separated veterans (and their dependents) the opportunity to start school in their new home state without having to wait to meet the physical presence requirement for in-state tuition. Because it only references the physical presence test, the schools can (and do) still require other indicators of intent to make the state your permanent home. These might include obtaining a driver’s license, registering your vehicles, moving your bank accounts, filing income tax returns, signing leases, setting up utilities, etc. The law was never intended to be a blanket, “in-state tuition anywhere you want” rule. It was simply meant to ease the transition for recently separated veterans who moved to a new state after leaving military service.
Why I Feel So Passionately About This Subject
Sometimes, when I’m talking about this with people, I’m pretty sure they think I’m just trying to be argumentative. I’m not, I promise. I just really, really want to make sure that folks are getting the right information. In 2018, almost 120,000 spouses and children used transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Knowing whether you will get in-state or out-of-state tuition is an important part of the school selection process. If you make your school choice based upon incorrectly believing that you will automatically get in-state tuition, you may be making a very expensive or very painful mistake. We’ve got to be spreading the right information.
The GI Bill website summarizes it really succinctly:
“you should contact your school to learn more about their rules and requirements for charging tuition and fees.”
Never assume that you’re going to be granted in-state tuition anywhere, based upon anything. Always check with the specific school, and try to get their policies in writing, or at least get a written determination of your residency status. Ask a LOT of questions: Does an in-state determination remain valid throughout your child’s education? Will stopping using the GI Bill mean that they revert to out-of-state? What if the parents move? Etc.
Please share this with your friends who are planning to use transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. It’s a super-important subject, and misinformation is available everywhere.
Other articles on college-related topics:
Do you want to know more about your military pay and benefits?
Things change fast around here! Keep up-to-date with email alerts about the topics that are important to you!