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The Sierra College Board of Trustees in a unanimous vote Tuesday approved a new policy to provide in-state tuition to any honorably discharged veteran residing in California.
The new policy, believed to be the first by a California community college, is consistent with the College’s long-standing efforts to support returning veterans, including a recently opened Sierra College Veterans Center and support services that have resulted in 800 veterans attending the college, a dramatic increase from just eight years ago.
“The state’s policy is very clear – to support returning veterans,” said Bill Halldin, President of the Sierra College Board of Trustees. “Unfortunately, some recently discharged veterans aren’t getting the support the state repeatedly has promised. We want to be sure that all veterans know that they are welcome on our campus and will receive the in-state tuition they deserve.”
The per-credit cost for in-state tuition is $46 and covered by the GI Bill. The per-credit cost for non-residents is $199 and not covered by the GI Bill. The Board discussed the issue at its May 13 meeting in Grass Valley. Sierra College student and veteran Tresor Bunker spoke in favor of the change.
“I served in the Marines, stationed out of Fort Ord in Monterey. Before I was discharged, I had done five tours of duty in Afghanistan,” commented Sierra College student Tresor Bunker as he addressed the Board of Trustees at their meeting on May 13. “My plan was to attend Sierra College because of the excellent Vets Program and to make a new start here. Unfortunately, because I was originally from Georgia, I was required to pay non-resident tuition. It was $8,000 extra out of my pocket and it made for a very hard year, but for me, Sierra was the only choice. I only wish that the time I served my country while stationed in California, would have counted for something.”
Current interpretation of California’s education code prohibits some returning veterans from receiving in-state tuition because they registered a car or registered to vote out of state while stationed in other states or overseas. Though California is home to the largest population of veterans in the nation, it is one of 10 states that hasn’t taken any action to help veterans bridge this gap in the GI Bill that would require all states to treat honorably discharged veterans as in-state students.
In an effort to clarify this issue in California, State Assemblywoman Beth Gaines introduced AB 2250: Public postsecondary education: nonresident tuition: military members. The current California bill, AB13 (Rep. Rocky Chavez) Nonresident tuition exemption: veterans, was introduced in 2013 and would exempt any former member of the Armed Forces, regardless of the state he/she was stationed prior to discharge, from paying nonresident tuition as long as he/she was using GI Bill education benefits while enrolled as a student.
During its May 13 meeting, the Board of Trustees proposed modifying the college’s non-resident tuition policy to allow recently discharged non-resident veterans to pay in-state fees until they have the opportunity to establish residency. The Trustees believe this is allowed under the local option within Education Code and consistent with the state’s policy of supporting returning veterans. Additional discussion will occur at the June 10 board meeting.
“If a veteran’s last address is Kabul, they were defending California and our entire country,” said Board Member Aaron Klein said. “We should welcome them back and exempt them from out-of-state tuition given their service to our state and our country.”
“We need to support the men and women who fought for this country,” Sierra College President Willy Duncan said. “Sierra College has been a national leader in providing support to returning veterans. Student support and success is central to our mission. If we see an instance where students are not fairly served, we feel it is our obligation to bring attention to that.”