Michigan universities offer veterans in-state tuition; community colleges worry about cost


LANSING, Mich. — U.S. military veterans, regardless of where they live, can qualify for in-state tuition from any of Michigan’s public universities after three schools agreed to change their policies.

The recent moves by the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University came after state lawmakers proposed constitutional amendments to force public universities to give veterans in-state tuition or, in the case of community colleges, in-district rates.

“We wanted to do this because it’s the right thing to do. ... We also wanted to be proactive rather than react to a bill or a constitutional amendment,” Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, said today. His group, which represents the 15 state universities, announced the pledge late last week ahead of Veterans Day.

It costs $13,100 for in-state tuition and fees at the University of Michigan, compared to nearly $40,400 for out-of-state tuition and fees.

Though all universities are now on board, most of the state’s 28 community colleges are opposed because of concerns it could cost them a combined $3 million and $4 million a year. Community colleges also remain cautious because students getting in-district rates live in communities paying designated property taxes to support the local community colleges.

“It’s a sensitive issue because obviously community colleges recognize the value of veterans’ service. ... But we really believe the decision about how to handle that balance is best left at the local community level,” said Erin Schor, legislative director for the Michigan Community College Association.

Under an updated GI Bill, she said, many veterans already qualify to have most or all of their tuition covered by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department.

“The only (one) to see a break from this would be the VA,” said Schor, who contended that some veterans prefer to pay out of pocket for community college — which is cheaper — and take federal benefits when they move on to a more expensive four-year school or graduate program. “Our tuition rate is not a barrier to people getting educated.”

The constitutional amendments, introduced eight months ago, are pending before a House committee and need two-thirds support from the Republican-led Legislature to appear on the November 2014 statewide ballot. One is sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Stamas of Midland, two others by Democratic Rep. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights.

Knezek, who served two tours with the Marines in the Iraq war, said he understands community colleges’ financial concerns but sees plusses if they change their policies.

“By extending that benefit to the veterans, think of how many more are going to come out of the woodwork, how many more we can attract from other places in the United States,” he said. “I think they’d see a huge influx in the number of veterans attending their schools, and with that comes the additional tuition dollars.”

Community colleges respond that tuition does not cover the full cost of educating a student and the vast majority of their students live in Michigan. At least two community colleges, however — Southwestern Michigan and Lake Michigan — do offer in-district tuition to veterans, Schor said.

Twenty states have laws waiving in-state residency requirements for veterans and seven have policies doing so, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Veteran-related bills are often being worked on in Lansing. House Democrats last week unveiled a host of proposals that would give tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans, make sure activity-duty members’ votes are counted and study adding a state-run veterans’ home in southeast Michigan.

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Snyder plans to sign legislation expanding a property tax exemption available to disabled veterans and their spouses. Roughly 80,000 of Michigan’s estimated 590,000 veterans have a military-connected disability, according to the House Fiscal Agency.