In-State Tuition Rules For Military Families

In-State Tuition Rules For Military Families

With the White House re-announcement of the changes to veteran’s residency requirements for in-state tuition, I’ve heard a bit of griping from active duty folks that they should have similar protections.  Fact is, active duty military and their family members already have more options for in-state tuition than any other group.  There are four distinct ways in which military family members are advantaged over their civilian and veteran counterparts when it comes to in-state tuition.

No Wait In A New State

In most cases, families who move have a period of time before their students qualify for in-state tuition.  For example, my civilian brother and I both live in Maryland right now.  If he moves to Pennsylvania, his kids have to fulfill all the residency requirements to qualify for in-state tuition, including 12 months of continuous domicile.  If I move to Pennsylvania, my military kids qualify for in-state tuition immediately.

Two States To Choose

Members of military families start out with a huge advantage over civilian or veteran family members:  they qualify for in-state tuition in both their state of legal domicile AND the state in which they actually reside.  Veterans and civilians only qualify for in-state tuition in the state in which they actually live.

It is true that this only applies to schools that accept certain types of federal funding, but the way it is written means that it includes the vast majority of schools.

Here’s the most pertinent part of the law, the Higher Education Opportunity Act:

“In the case of a member of the armed forces who is on active duty for a period of more than 30 days and whose domicile or permanent duty station is in a State that receives assistance under this chapter and part C of subchapter I of chapter 34 of title 42, such State shall not charge such member (or the spouse or dependent child of such member) tuition for attendance at a public institution of higher education in the State at a rate that is greater than the rate charged for residents of the State.”

Keep Your In-State Rate

Once military family members begin at a school and qualifies for in-state tuition under the terms of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, they get to keep their in-state tuition rate even if their family moves to a new location.

Some states or individual schools offer this to non-military students, but that is at their discretion and not guaranteed.

Pick Up A Third State

When a military family PCSes during a family member’s college career, that student then has the immediate option to claim in-state rates in the family’s new home state.  This gives them the option to continue at their old school and retain the in-state rate, or transfer to a school in the state to which their family has moved.  Referring back to the first item, civilian students typically have to wait out the in-state residency requirements before they can claim in-state tuition in their family’s new state.

I’m a little confused about why so many people think that military kids (and spouses, and military members) are disadvantaged when it comes to in-state tuition rates.  Federal law provides a wide variety of protections and accommodations that result in military children being distinctly advantaged over their civilian peers.  I, for one, am thankful.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.