I want to use this story as a case study on how to prevent other veteran students from getting stuck with a giant tuition bill while using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. In the story, Oller said that he “assumed the GI Bill covered all fees at any state school” and only found out it didn’t three days before classes started.
On the surface I can see how that could happen. The VA advertises that the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays “a tuition and fee payment that is paid to your school on your behalf.” It doesn’t go into the fact that it only pays resident tuition fees at state supported schools or up to a fixed amount ($19,198.31 for the 2013/2014 academic year) per year at private schools. The VA could do a better job in their advertising of the Post 9/11 GI Bill as far as what it covers and what it does not.
Oller said, in regard to not knowing about the out-of-state tuition, “You know, I was working with so many people, nobody ever mentioned ‘hey man you’re going to be on the hook.’ I thought it’s a public school, they receive federal funds.” Somewhere in the registration process, the school should have made it clear that his Post 9/11 GI Bill would not pay all of his tuition and that he was going to be responsible for a certain amount.
The Principles of Excellence Bill signed into law by President Obama will help hold schools accountable to declare up front what costs veterans will have to pay when using their GI Bill before they enroll.
And to a certain extent, Oller is at fault. He failed to educate himself on what charges the Post 9/11 GI Bill would pay (and what it would not). While it is not clear on the VA website, there are many resources on the Internet that do explain it well. As you now know, it only pays up to the resident tuition rate. As a non-resident, you are responsible to pay the difference – maybe.
With the proper research, he would have also known that if he was going to be charged non-resident tuition, he would have been qualified to use the Yellow Ribbon program. Under it, his school could pay up to half of the difference not covered and the VA would pay an equal amount.
He could have then also found out that his school was not a YR school and then “shopped around” until he found one that did have a YR agreement that included his degree plan.
As it turns out there are many schools in the San Diego area that are part of the YR network and have unlimited coverage for all programs.
If the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act currently before Congress passes, the non-resident tuition issue will be a moot point, as all veteran students would pay the same in-rate tuition rate that school charges their resident students. However until it passes (if it does pass), the best advice is to educate yourself and ask questions – a lot of questions – before enrolling in any school. Only you can look out for yourself. Nobody else will.
Photo courtesy US Department of Education