Note: This article has been updated to include the changes that are happening effective 1 August 2021.
Sometimes, laws are written in such a way that they’re really hard to understand exactly what they are saying. And then there are constant changes to the laws. 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. After several years of mass misinformation, a recent law change is going to clear things up for everyone.
Why Is It So Confusing?
There are a couple of issues here. First, there is an overwhelming belief that just someone wants something to be true that it is actually true. Then there is a 2016 rule that requires that you read the entire rule to get it right – and a lot of people just read the part that fit their purposes. Add in the fact that states and schools often offer benefits beyond what the law requires, and you’ll hear 100 different stories if you ask 100 different people.
It’s also confusing because there are two sides of the issue: What the law requires, and what schools actually do. Many schools are more generous than the federal law requires. This creates a situation where Jim says, “Well, State U gave my kid in-state tuition after they ran out of GI Bill benefits,” and then Joe thinks that U State is going to do the same thing.
The Latest Update
Thankfully, though, this last rule change hopefully will make things a lot easier.
The Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, which was signed into law on 5 January 2021, amends the rules regarding in-state tuition to (basically) require all schools to provide in-state tuition to all beneficiaries using the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
You’ll notice that I added the word basically in parentheses. That’s because there is still a part of the law that hasn’t been changed, and does sort of provide schools a little bit of an out. 38 U.S.C. § 3679 states:
“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.”
In the past, this has been interpreted to mean that schools have the authority to require actions that show intent to be a resident of the state. i.e. getting a driver’s license, paying taxes, etc. Will schools do this? That remains to be seen. I kind of doubt it. But I do think that it is important to know all of what the rules say.
What About When You’re Not Using The GI Bill?
Many students don’t have enough GI Bill benefits to get all the way through college, or their family is using the benefits strategically to get the most bang for their buck. What happens then? Well, we refer back to the number one rule in college financial aid: Every school is different.
Some schools will allow a student to maintain their in-state tuition even when they’re no longer using GI Bill benefits. This can be super-handy to know, especially if it allows you to use one semester of benefits to “buy” in-state tuition the rest of a college career. Other schools only give in-state tuition when actually using the GI Bill. Yet other schools have different benefits for military kids that might fall somewhere between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition. You need to ask the financial aid office, maybe a couple of times, and maybe in writing. I know it can feel like opening up a can of worms that you’d rather stay open, but you need to have all the facts before making a decision about whether a college is a financial fit for your family.
Let us know what you experience when the rules change this fall – sharing is caring 🙂
If you want some help with your college financial strategy, including making the most of your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, consider hiring me to help. You can schedule a free 30 minute call to discuss your family’s specific concerns by using this link to my Calendly schedule.
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