Lawmakers to address new veterans tuition benefit

? A legislative committee learned Friday that lawmakers will need to pass a bill next session authorizing state colleges and universities to charge in-state tuition to all recent military veterans, regardless of their current residence status.

Wayne Bollig, deputy director of the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs, told the legislature’s Joint Committee on Kansas Security that the in-state tuition benefit is now required under federal law.

It was inserted into a bill Congress passed in August that was aimed at reforming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And institutions that don’t comply with it risk losing their eligibility to participate in all other VA educational benefit programs.

The rule takes effect July 1, 2015, and is available to veterans and their families if they apply for admission within three years of being honorably discharged.

Kansas Board of Regents spokeswoman Breeze Richardson said that is one of the issues the regents will take up when they meet later this month and discuss non-budget policy items they want the Legislature to consider next year.

She said colleges and universities currently don’t have legal authority to charge in-state tuition to students who have never lived in Kansas before. She said current law only allows them to charge in-state tuition for non-resident veterans if they were permanently stationed in Kansas for at least part of their service, provided they establish a residence in Kansas and indicate they intend to stay here.

At Kansas University, the difference between resident and non-resident tuition amounts to about $13,000 a year for most undergraduate students.

KU spokesman Tim Caboni said he could not estimate how much that would cost the university until officials get a sense of how many veterans will take advantage of the new benefit. But in this case, he said, the cost will not be an issue.

“Because it’s a federal law with which we want to comply,” Caboni said. “And number two, it’s great for our students and our university for veterans and veterans’ families to enroll. We want to be a veteran-friendly university so they can afford a University of Kansas education.”