It just got easier for veterans to go to college in North Carolina.
The North Carolina State Legislature has passed a law, SB 478, that will allow for recent veterans and those who qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 Education Program to be eligible for in-state tuition, waiving the 12-month residency requirement.
At the signing ceremony, Governor McCrory suggested the logic behind the law was to encourage those stationed in North Carolina to stay in the state after they finish their service: “This new law will boost North Carolina’s economy by encouraging the talent to stay right here.”
With large bases such as Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune among others, North Carolina’s military presence is great, to be sure. But if we are going to encourage more veterans to stay in the state, we better make sure that we are going to take good care of them.
Already, Veterans make up nearly 10 percent of North Carolina’s population, with the largest concentration of them living in the Triangle. And roughly one out of every ten veterans here is a woman. That percentage is only going to get larger, on a national scale, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, who projects that the national female veteran population will rise from 9 percent to 17 percent over the next 30 years.
On average, female veterans between the age of 17 and 24 are half as likely as their non-veteran counterparts to have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher. That makes sense, in part due to the fact that many of these women perform their military service during this time. Between the ages of 25 to 34, the gap closes a bit, with 29 percent of women veterans earning a Bachelors degree or higher, while 36 percent of their non-veteran counterparts complete a college education or more. Between the ages of 35-44, however, women veterans overtake non-veteran women with a higher rate of degree completion.
What all of this means is that a bill like the one that North Carolina just passed has the capability of helping to close these gaps. It means that, with a letter of intent from any UNC system university or community college, a veteran can enroll right away, without waiting 12 months to receive in-state tuition benefits. Twelve months is a long time to put your life on hold while waiting to go to college, and a lot can happen in the meantime. Eliminating that gap will create a clearer path to educational achievement for new veterans.
While this bill certainly is a step in the right direction, we would do well to consider other barriers to access that are likely to affect our women veterans. Women veterans between the ages of 17 to 24 are more than twice as likely to have children than non-veteran women, which means that, in order for them to go to college, many women will need help with child care.
Moreover, while over 90% of women veterans live above the poverty level, “women veterans are one of the fastest-growing segments of the homeless veteran population,” according to John Driscoll, head of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. According to the Women Veteran Support Services of North Carolina, “Female veterans are twice as likely to become homeless as women who never served in the military.”
Veterans living in poverty, veterans living with physical and/or mental disabilities, veterans living with trauma. Veterans trying to navigate an extremely complicated and overwhelmed system to collect the benefits and assistance they have earned by serving this country. There are so many things that need to be fixed about the system.
This law? Hopefully one less thing.
Melissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tar Heels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.