Lt. Col. Evan Holt, a Kansas native and veteran, was shocked to find his daughter was ineligible to attend a Kansas college and pay in-state tuition.
That’s why he is working to close a loophole in state law that allows members of the military serving in Kansas to get in-state tuition for themselves and their families but doesn’t allow Kansas natives and their families the same benefit.
House Bill 2567, which passed the House 124-0 on Feb. 22, would reinstate resident tuition for families who permanently live in Kansas. The provision for in-state tuition was inadvertently eliminated a year ago when lawmakers passed HB 2154, a bill that brought Kansas into compliance with federal laws. HB 2567 also would reimburse families if they were denied in-state tuition. The bill is now in the Senate.
Holt’s daughter did not receive in-state tuition because Holt, who served in the military for 21 years, and his family returned to Kansas after he had retired. HB 2154 allowed in-state tuition for veterans, spouses, and dependents of individuals stationed in Kansas while they were serving in the military. But it accidentally excluded veterans, spouses and dependents from receiving in-state tuition if they lived in Kansas before their military service.
Holt, who testified before legislators, said the current law allows non-Kansan veterans who served in Kansas for as little as two years to receive in-state benefits.
“There’s always going to be people who slip through the loopholes, in a sense you get strange cases like that. I’d say there’s definitely frustrations with the bureaucracy as far as trying to navigate the different avenues and trying to get the benefits,” William Rector, Kansas State University (KSU) graduate research assistant in Non-Traditional & Veteran Student Services, said.
Helping veterans and their families navigate college can be a challenge for veterans’ advocates.
Creating an awareness of these issues is one of the biggest hurdles, Rector said.
On a statewide level, Wayne Bollig, deputy director of the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs Office, said it’s difficult to even identify who is a veteran in the state of Kansas because veterans have to identify themselves.
“Many veterans don’t participate in clubs as much as they used to, so we have a harder time determining what communities they’re in, where they’re at and where they need help,” Bollig said.
More than 220,000 veterans live in the state of Kansas, according to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs.
Bollig explained that trying to create an awareness of various veteran services is continuously difficult, due to the high costs of advertising and the limited budget his organization has to work with.
The University of Kansas (KU) is taking steps to help veterans. To improve awareness and help veterans and their dependents, KU is opening a 3,000-square foot Student Veteran Center in January 2017. The center will be a hub for all veteran activities on campus and be located in Summerfield Hall. It will offer a lounge area, offices for a variety of veteran services and potentially include members from the state district attorney’s office to offer advice. KU will also hire a center director.
“KU is making a big step forward by hiring a Student Veteran Center director because that person will be responsible for recruiting, retaining and graduating our student veteran population,” Lt. Col. Randy Masten, program assistant for the KU Office of Graduate Military Programs, said. “They’re ensuring that they will get all the support they’ve earned through their military service and all the benefits they’ve earned as well.”
This center is the next phase in creating a stronger presence for veterans on campus and will provide opportunities for non-traditional student veterans who need help structuring their KU experience.
“Some (veterans) come in and are older, and they feel a little bit out of touch with the undergrad populace, and they want to find that community where they feel a little bit more belonging and grounding,” Derek Kandt, president of the KU Collegiate Veterans Association, said.
Kandt said there are some 800 KU students using some type of GI Bill benefits. These students could also be dependents of veterans, such as Holt’s daughter.
The KU Collegiate Veterans Association focuses on helping student veterans through the process of receiving their GI Bill benefits.
“We want to make sure people who are being frustrated by the process know that this is an avenue for their voices to be heard. And by enlargement we could be very successful for getting policy changes,” Kandt said.
Edited by Leah Sitz