A perennially hot topic is “can my military kid get in-state tuition?” There is a ton of mis-information out there. Be sure you have the right information before you begin the college search and start deciding which schools you can afford.
I am deeply invested in this question because I have four teenage children. My kids, like all military children, are advantaged over their peers because they have more choices for in-state tuition than their civilian classmates. They usually receive in-state tuition in two states, and they may be eligible for a third state if we move on Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders while they are in college.
When talking about residency for the purposes of college tuition, it is important to remember that most students are considered “dependent” students. Their residence is directly tied to their parents’ residences, regardless of the parents’ role in paying for school. Having your child file their own tax return and claiming themselves instead of you claiming them as a dependent will not change this. The criteria to be considered an independent student include military service, marriage, having a child, being legally emancipated prior to age 18, or being a foster child.
State of Parents’ Legal Residence
Military students are (almost) always eligible for in-state tuition in their active duty parent’s state of legal residence, or domicile. The parent must be a legitimate residence of that state. Different state have different requirements. They generally include Leave and Earnings Statements (LES) showing the designated state, plus other indicators of residence such as voter registration, drivers licenses, vehicle registration, etc. If it is a state that taxes income, you’ll almost definitely need to have filed your taxes there.
State of Actual Residence
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 requires that states offer in-state tuition to military family members who live in the state due to their active duty military member’s service. This means that military kids are eligible for in-state tuition where they are actually living in conjunction with their parent’s job. They do not need to meet any other residency requirements.
Keeping The In-State Rate
Military children have another advantage over their civilian peers: they get to keep their in-state residency, as long as they remain continuously enrolled, even if their parents’ situation changes while they are in school. If a child starts college, and receives in-state tuition there because their parent is stationed there, he or she will continue to receive in-state tuition even if the parent moves away.
This is also part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. If you search for “in-state,” it takes you directly to the relevant section.
New State? New School
If a military family moves while their student is in college, the student is generally eligible for in-state tuition in the new location without having to meet a time-in-residence requirement. That’s the same part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.
What About The GI Bill?
There is a ton of confusion about what is and is not required when students are using GI Bill benefits. I’ve written an entire article going through the appropriate legislation and what it does and does not say. I’ll summarize here: Federal law does not require schools to offer in-state tuition solely because a student is using GI Bill benefits.
While these are the “rules,” there are always exceptions. Some schools will give military kids in-state tuition just to be nice, and others have good deals for military kids. Some schools grant students in-state tuition if they’re using GI Bill benefits. Students using the GI Bill may find that the Yellow Ribbon Program means that a private college ends up being as affordable as a state school. Be sure to thoroughly check out your desired schools to understand their specific policies.
Figuring out how to pay for college is tough. Military children have more options for in-state tuition than their civilian peers, but they don’t get in-state tuition everywhere. Understanding the details can prevent unpleasant surprises!
Check out the The Big List of Military Scholarships for more ways to pay for college.
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