Ohio Colleges Will be Free for Veterans
July 09, 2008
Gov. Ted Strickland made a promise to American veterans living around the world yesterday: Come to one of Ohio's public colleges and pay nothing.
His offer piggybacks on the newly expanded federal GI Bill by charging in-state tuition to any veteran who qualifies for a free ride in their home state.
That will mean a free ride here, once the new GI Bill takes effect in August 2009. Until then, some veterans will go free and others will pay less, depending on how much money they receive under the current GI Bill.
"Who better to have as part of Ohio's colleges and universities, work force and communities than the veterans who have served, led and protected our country," Strickland said.
Strickland and Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut unveiled "The Ohio GI Promise" as part of their effort to attract 230,000 more students to the state by 2017. National numbers were unavailable yesterday, but 46,812 Ohioans were deployed from Sept. 11, 2001, to April 30, 2007.
The hope is that they will stay after graduation, increase the number of skilled workers and help repopulate areas of the state that have been depleted by military deployments to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Strickland and Fingerhut said.
It also could boost the number of citizen soldiers in the Ohio National Guard, said Greg Wayt, Ohio's adjutant general.
"They already have all the skills and will become the standard-bearers," Wayt said.
The spouses and children of veterans who become "honorary Ohioans" also would be able to attend college in Ohio at in-state rates. In some cases, veterans would be able to transfer their benefits so relatives can go free.
Ohio's colleges would lose the money they would have earned by charging these veterans out-of-state tuition. At Ohio State University, for example, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is $13,239.
Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, said the state would have to increase its support to colleges beyond previous promises if it wants to pay for the new services while meeting other goals, such as catching up to the national average in per-student spending.
"I have no doubt the governor, chancellor and legislators will try to honor their continued commitment to higher education," said Johnson, who supports the expanded veteran benefits. "The real question is, will that be possible with today's economy?"
Fingerhut agreed that there will be an extra cost involved, but said the state still needs to figure out how much extra support to give to colleges.
Ohio is the first state to extend in-state benefits to veterans from other parts of the country, which makes it hard to project how many people will take advantage of the new program, Strickland and Fingerhut said.
Both think other states likely will follow Ohio's lead.
"It's a brilliant plan," said Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C. "It's the right thing to do for veterans, and it's great for the state and nation."
Columbus State Community College officials applauded the program but said schools near the state border are more likely to draw huge numbers of new veterans. Last year, 557 attended Columbus State.
At Ohio State, where veteran enrollment has been holding steady at about 1,200, officials expect to attract more people. But the program would be worth it even if it didn't, they said.
"They bring a maturity and have demonstrated service to their country and good judgment," said Katherine Meyer, associate provost of undergraduate education.
The new GI Bill was signed into law last week as part of a $162 billion spending package, mostly to finance the Iraq war.
Under the expanded law, veterans who served after the 9/11 attack will receive benefits to cover the cost of in-state tuition at the most expensive public college in their state, a monthly housing stipend based on location ($1,400 in Ohio) and an extra $1,000 annually for books. Veterans also will be eligible for money for tutoring, as well as certification and licensing tests.
Currently, GI Bill benefits are worth approximately $1,250 monthly. Unlike when the program was created, that is not enough to pay for college because of tuition inflation.
The new federal benefits will go into effect Aug. 1, 2009.The Ohio expansion, meanwhile, goes into effect immediately.
Rick Arreguin, a 30-year-old Hilliard native in the 612th Engineering Battalion of the Ohio National Guard, said the new benefits would help him finish his logistics degree.
Arreguin went to Columbus State for three years using past GI benefits, but he hasn't taken any classes since spending a year in Iraq in 2005.
Being able to transfer unused benefits to his 3-year-old daughter's future education also offers him peace of mind.
"This is really exciting. I've been really worried about how I would pay for my daughter's college," Arreguin said.
Information about the new program is available at 1-877-838-7641 and http://universitysystem.ohio.gov/veterans
Use your GI Bill before time runs out!