COLUMBIA — Legislators want to make it easier for veterans to go to college in South Carolina by paying tuition at in-state rates, though bills differ on how to do that.
Rep. Joe Daning, R-Goose Creek, said the effort is about honoring veterans in this military-friendly state. He said he also hopes it serves as a recruitment tool for a state with a veteran population that already exceeds 400,000, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Every military student who comes into this state is highly disciplined, highly skilled,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get them employed right here.”
At least 19 states already allow veterans to pay in-state tuition, either through state law or — like neighboring Georgia — the policy of a college oversight board. Of those, at least 13 extend the benefit to dependents too, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Daning’s bill, which passed the House unanimously last week, would waive the one-year residency requirement for veterans and their dependents who prove they intend to make South Carolina their permanent home. It would allow them to enroll immediately in a public college without paying up to $18,000 extra. They would just need to show proof — such as a state driver’s license — before classes start.
“A lot of veterans coming back have to sit on their hands for 12 months while they wait to qualify for in-state rates,” said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Lorraine, executive director of the Augusta-Aiken Warrior Project, which seeks to reduce homelessness and unemployment among veterans.
He said he began advocating for the change after trying to help an Air Force major who wanted to come back home to Aiken after eight years in the military, but she couldn’t afford the $9,000 difference at USC-Aiken or the wait. So she moved elsewhere.
Another returning soldier, Lorraine said, decided to find a job while biding his time, but it’s now uncertain he’ll go to college.
Lorraine prefers Sen. Tom Young’s bill, which is stalled in subcommittee. It allows the in-state rate for anyone attending college on the GI Bill, mimicking a proposal introduced in the U.S. House in January.
Bills proposed in the South Carolina Legislature would allow veterans and their dependents to pay in-state tuition rates without first living in the state for a year. It would add to the current exemption list. More than 13,500 students paid the lower rate at the state’s public colleges and universities under eight exemptions in fall 2011, the latest year numbers are available:
1,124 active-duty military personnel stationed in South Carolina, or their dependents
74 full-time faculty and administrative employees of public colleges, or their dependents
479 people who moved to SC for a full-time job, or their dependents
92 retirees with a home in SC, or their dependents
948 students in the Southern Regional Education Board’s “common market” program enrolled in courses not available in their state
9,677 students receiving non-state scholarships approved by their college’s board, such as athletic scholarships.
1,084 students from border counties on state reciprocity agreements, such as Augusta, students at USC-Aiken, and Charlotte, N.C., students at Winthrop.
60 students from another country in approved VISA classifications
Source: Commission on Higher Education