USF vets want state legislation changed

With stricter residency requirements for college tuition passed statewide, U.S. Army veteran and USF student Will Boland said paying for tuition at the University has become a lot tougher.

Before enrolling at USF, Boland, originally from New Jersey, served in the Army for four years. He said he receives some funding from a veterans scholarship program, but it’s not enough to cover his out-of-state tuition costs.

“I thiank the veterans should get the in-state tuition, because they fought for all 50 states – not just one,” said Boland, a sophomore majoring in nursing.

The Higher Education Appropriations Conforming Bill (Senate Bill 1696), which went into effect Aug. 1, required Florida state universities to “affirmatively determine” whether students applying for state residency meet the new requirements for in-state tuition.

This year, USF implemented the new policy, meaning out-of-state students starting this semester no longer have the option to qualify for residency, Provost Ralph Wilcox told the Oracle in May.

The only way for students to receive in-state tuition is if they live in Florida for one year not enrolled in school, Wilcox said.

The student must have proof of residency, such as a car registered in Florida, said USF Student Veterans Association (SVA) member Michael Johnson.

Aside from changing residency requirements, USF decreased its out-of-state undergraduate and graduate tuition by 15 percent, Wilcox said. Undergraduates now pay $14,768 and graduate students pay $19,344 per year.

In hopes of getting in-state tuition for veterans like Boland, who came to Florida for college, the SVA is creating a petition to submit to the Florida Senate.

“Our intent is to change legislation and the residency issues to have vets, who have been honorably discharged, to be considered state residents, regardless of their prior residency,” said Johnson, a senior majoring in economics.

Juan Rivera, a sophomore majoring in criminology, served in the Army and the National Guard for 14 years. He is originally from New Jersey but moved to Florida four weeks ago for college.

“(Receiving in-state tuition) alleviates a lot of the stress and just makes the transition from soldier to student that much easier,” Rivera said.

SVA has not started writing the petition yet, said Megan Sisson, president of SVA. The club hopes to have it ready for signatures by the end of October, she said.

“(The petition is) basically to show that this many people, republican and democrat – regardless of your affiliation – are interested in this,” said SVA member Corey Wilson, a sophomore majoring in chemistry.

Once completed, SVA plans to “spread the word across” for those interested in signing the petition and showing their support, Wilson said.

“If there’s enough interest for it right now, we can always write something informal to post around campus,” Wilson said.

The SVA is trying to use a “word-of-mouth campaign” in order to get its petition known to possible supporters within the state, Sisson said.

“I’ve already contacted SVA chapters at other universities to hear what they have to say about what we’re writing,” she said. “We want to try to get signatures that way.”

Assistant Director of Veterans Services Meredith Nickles said the department is concentrating on making sure student veterans are getting the appropriate funds from the Veterans Assocation (VA) to help pay for school.

She said Veterans Services, a department separate from SVA, supports the SVA’s efforts and has offered to send mass e-mails to the veteran students on campus.

“(The SVA) haven’t really come to us,” Nickles said. “We do provide means of communication by sending out e-mail messages to all 852 veteran students. We can get that message out if they need more signatures on (the petition).”

If legislation allows veterans to receive in-state tuition, SVA members hope it will decrease the need for students to apply for loans, Wilson said.

The Yellow Ribbon Scholarship is a one-year program that veteran students can apply for. Once they enroll in a university, the scholarship matches the payment a veteran receives from the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The payments vary with each student but don’t cover all of the tuition fees a student may have, Johnson said.

USF is currently the only Florida state school to offer the Yellow Ribbon Scholarship program, Nickels said.

“Even though we have the GI Bill, (paying for school) is still worrisome,” Rivera said. “I had to take out a student loan in addition to my GI Bill.”