Members of the military are among the most mobile members of American society, moving where they’re needed, when they’re needed. One side effect of this government-directed nomadic lifestyle is that it can be difficult, if not impossible, for service members and their families to stay in one state long enough to qualify for the reduced college and university tuition rates granted to “residents.”
That’s likely to change in Washington, thanks to legislation sponsored by state Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), whose 23rd legislative district in Kitsap County contains one of the largest concentrations of military men and women in the state. The state House gave unanimous approval to Appleton’s HB 1011 Tuesday (Feb. 11), relaxing residency requirements to help veterans, members of the military, Washington National Guard members, and their dependents enter Washington’s public colleges and universities at the more affordable resident-tuition levels.
It’s a change that could help dreams come true for motivated students who by definition have already shown themselves to be committed, disciplined and not afraid of hard work. Resident tuition and fees for a full academic year at a Washington community/technical college can total as much as $4,000; the non-resident costs for the same term are $9,325. The difference is even more pronounced at baccalaureate institutions. Resident tuition and fees range from $2,458 a year at Eastern Washington University to $12,397 at the University of Washington, while a non-resident ticket runs $6,447 at EWU and a mind-boggling $31,971 at UW.
“This bill is a way to say to our veterans, our military and their families, ‘Thank you for your service, and for your sacrifices,’” said Appleton, who was named Outstanding Legislator of the Year for 2012 by the state Department of Veterans Affairs. “Twenty-eight states already provide this courtesy to service members, including Idaho, Oregon and Alaska. This is an important way to allow our veterans to earn a degree or acquire a skill that they might not otherwise be able to have. These are good people, and we want them to live here, to learn here, and to make our state stronger.”
Normally, a student must have lived in Washington for at least a year, and established the state as his or her official domicile, to qualify for resident tuition rates. But in a classic Catch-22, veterans must begin using their GI Bill college benefits within a year of their separation from the service, or those benefits evaporate. Appleton’s legislation, whose co-sponsors include her seatmate, Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island), and Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor), solves that dilemma. It also establishes criteria by which those still serving, and their dependents, can pay resident rates without fulfilling the ordinary requirements.
HB 1011 now heads to the Senate, which must act on the bill by March 7 for it to become law this year.