CUNY Should Waive Residency Requirements for VeteransA student-veteran speaks out against changes to the GI bill.
Brandon Caro, Contributing Writer
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan should not have to pay for school, period. They should be granted free tuition at all public universities, regardless of whether they are a resident of the given state or not. This was the case up until August 1st of 2011, when new stipulations of the Post 9/11 Webb GI Bill (named for the honorable Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia) went into full effect. Under the old system, the Veterans Affairs (VA) could bill a public university, including any CUNY or SUNY school, for the full amount of the out-of-state tuition. The new guidelines require out of state veterans to pay the difference between the in-state and the out-of-state tuition out of pocket, which, for a full course-load of 12 credit hours could range upwards of $2500. But in order to understand what the GI Bill represents to today’s returning veterans, we must first reexamine the origin of this unique and life changing program.
A popular myth—certainly one that I was fed in middle and high school—is that
US domestic spending on weapons, ammunition and machinery of war is what dragged America out of the Great Depression. In fact, the US imposed war rationing on the free sale of ordinary goods, forcing the American people to scrimp and save. Contrary to popular belief, post-war spending is what righted the American economy after the Great Depression. However, FDR felt uneasy about hordes of GIs returning from battle on the European and Pacific fronts to a nation that did not yet have the capacity to gainfully employ all of them. The GI Bill was part of FDR’s New Deal, a comprehensive social welfare spending package aimed at serving the poor and destitute. Among the more well known and in recent times more controversial programs spirited forward by the New Deal were Social Security and Medicare.
From the end of the Second World War all the way till 2008, the GI Bill was phased in and out of use by the military, due to budgetary cuts. It became a recruiting tool in the 1980s, effectively making military service a gateway to
higher education. Many servicemen and women, myself included, even paid as much as $1800 of our own money into the Montgomery GI Bill for the privilege of receiving a fixed rate stipend every month to pay for college. In 2008, with the passage of the Post 9/11 Webb GI Bill, military members would no longer be required to buy into the program in order to receive educational benefits, and the GI Bill would now pay the schools directly and pay the student-veteran a monthly living stipend commensurate to the military’s cost of living index associated with each school’s zip code. According to that same metric, 10065, the zip code for Hunter College, is part of the second most expensive area in the US, second only to one in San Francisco.
However, the GI Bill does not cover the full tuition of private institutions. In fact, it will pay only the in-state rate for all public universities and colleges—any students that are not residents of that state must pay the difference between the in-state and out-of-state rate out of pocket. This is troubling because New York City
should more than any other city in the country be bending over backwards to accommodate those of us who have deployed to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. It was, after all, New York City that was attacked so ferociously on that now infamous morning over a decade ago. There are roughly a dozen of us here at Hunter who are caught in this strange limbo. We have not yet paid the difference, as we are able to defer our payments until the end of the semester. Faculty and VA representatives are trying to work together on a solution to this problem.
I propose the CUNY leadership draft a Residency-Requirement Waiver for all recipients of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Under this provision, all out-of-state student veterans would be recognized as in-state, so long as they could provide a proof of New York State residence at the time of enrollment. I don’t think this is asking too much. I believe that we are worth it. The men and women who are willing to defend our great nation deserve, at the very least, a free public education.