COLUMBUS - Ohio still wants the nation's military veterans to be all that they can be, but it wants them to do it here.
Taking advantage of the just-passed federal GI Bill doubling college education benefits for recent military veterans, Gov. Ted Strickland yesterday signed an executive order making an Ohio public college education "basically free'' for veterans, regardless of where they live.
"When you put on this nation's uniform, you become an honorary Ohioan,'' said Mr. Strickland. "There is a world-class education awaiting you in Ohio and a lifetime of opportunity after that.''
Ohio became the first state to build on benefits included in the new GI Bill signed by President Bush on June 30. Ohio would treat veterans taking advantage of the program as if they were state residents, qualifying them for lower tuition at public four-year and two-year institutions.
It would also treat veterans' spouses and children as Ohio residents to qualify them for lower in-state tuition, even if they don't qualify for GI Bill tuition benefits. The change would not affect the veteran's legal residency when it comes to taxation and eligibility for other government services.
"The people coming out of the service already have skill sets that are relevant,'' said Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo and a former Marine who completed his college and medical education with the help of the GI Bill.
"They certainly have work ethic,'' he said. "They understand what it is to live a disciplined life. They're a great asset to our country and northwest Ohio.''
He noted that UT last year began forgiving out-of-state tuition for distance-learning courses for students on active duty.
Mr. Strickland pitched the proposal as an economic development tool that could lure talented veterans to Ohio and then keep them here. The state recently exempted military pensions from the state income tax.
U.S. Army National Guard Spec. Leondre Dow, 23, of Dayton, recently re-enlisted with plans to eventually take advantage of the GI Bill to study at Wright State University.
He wants to be an English teacher.
"I thought about Savannah State or Savannah Tech [in Georgia], but I'm moving back to Ohio,'' he said. "They have 100 percent paid tuition.''
Mr. Strickland's order will establish the Ohio GI Promise Council to market the program nationally. The proposal dovetails with the state's goal of increasing enrollment at its colleges and universities by 230,000 students over the next two years.
Mr. Strickland said he doesn't believe the program will lead to legal Ohio residents losing spots at local schools to make way for out-of-state veterans.
'"It will cost us nothing,'' he said. "We will attract students that we would not have had otherwise. We think that's a positive rather than a negative.''
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