Few children of Texas vets using free tuition benefit

Posted Friday, Feb. 07, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Other sources of financial aid

• The Guide to Federal Student Aid, published by the Federal Citizen Information Center. Call 888-878-3256 or go to www.pueblo.gsa.gov.

• The Texas Financial Aid Information Center. Learn about the TEXAS Grant, the Texas B-On-Time Loan program and others at www.collegefortexans.com.

• Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Access to Pell Grants, student loans and other federal programs starts at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

• Scholarship listings and financial aid information are at www.FinAid.org.

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Texas veterans take note — your children may be able to go to college tuition-free.

The Hazlewood Legacy Act, passed in 2009, allows children of Texas veterans to take up to 150 credit hours at a Texas public school at no cost for tuition and most fees. So far, just 10,400 college students have taken advantage of the offer, even though 1.7 million veterans live in the state.

In May, the Legislature switched oversight of the benefit program from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to the Texas Veterans Commission.

“We became interested in the legacy program as the advocacy agency for veterans in the state,” said Rufus Coburn, director of veteran education at the commission. “It’s our No. 1 priority as far as a state program.”

The Legislature also provided funding for the fledgling program in its last session: $30 million in a one-time allocation for 2013 and an additional $248 million put into the state’s trust system, with proceeds from those investments earmarked for the program.

“The trust income will help defray some of the costs to the schools,” Coburn said.

Eligibility rules include that the veteran:

• Must be a Texas resident or must have entered the service in Texas.

• Must have an honorable discharge.

• Must have served at least 181 days on active duty.

To qualify, a child must be eligible for resident tuition, must be 25 or younger and must make satisfactory progress as determined by the institution. The tuition and fee waiver can be used at public universities and colleges, community colleges and technical schools but not at private colleges.

“There are more than 100 universities, community colleges and technical schools where the legacy program can be used,” Coburn said.

To apply, a child must first be accepted at the university.

The child then fills out an HE-D application, while the veteran parent completes an HE-V application. Both applications, along with a copy of the veteran’s Form DD-214, are sent to the financial aid office of the school. Proof of eligibility or ineligibility for Montgomery GI Bill benefits may be required as well.

The number of recipients in the program should grow because many service members in the Texas National Guard and reserve forces were deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, making them eligible under the legacy program.

“Many Guard and reserve forces would qualify based on just one deployment,” Coburn said.

In 2012, Texas State University in San Marcos received the most Hazlewood Legacy students — 928. Texas A&M University followed close behind with 909. The University of Texas-San Antonio, Texas Tech University and the University of North Texas each had more than 500.

Two federal laws provide tuition help for vets, and the most recent, the post-9-11 GI Bill, also allows unused education benefits to transfer to children. The GI Bill may be used along with the Hazlewood benefit, which can be a complex procedure for a vet to sort through, Coburn said. Find out more about federal education benefits at www.military.com.

Right now, only one family member at a time can use the Hazlewood benefit, because the database does not allow for tracking of multiple recipients, Coburn said. The benefit can be split among children as long as it isn’t used at the same time, he said.

Spouses of a dead or disabled veteran can use the benefit, as can the veterans themselves. But the total hours for a family can’t exceed 150.

Coburn said the Texas Veterans Commission is doing several things to make the program more known.

“We get over 10,000 calls a year, and a lot are dealing with the Hazlewood benefit,” he said. The commission was also able to secure changes to the Apply Texas online college application used by most public schools.

“There was nothing on the form to identify veteran benefits, but there is now,” he said. “But not all schools use the form, so then it requires the student and veteran parent to self-identify their eligibility.”

One big misconception about the program regards the 181 days of federal military service, Coburn said. “Some think they’re not qualified because they were not combat veterans,” he said, “but if they were in federal military service, they qualify.”

The commission plans to hold a free webinar on the Hazlewood benefit at 2 p.m. Feb. 19 for veterans and anyone else who’s interested. Register at www.tvc.texas.gov/OfficeHours.aspx. At the end of the webinar, participants can ask questions.

And the commission will take any questions or inquiries about the program at its education hotline, 877-898-3833. For more information, go to the Texas Veterans Commission website, www.tvc.texas.gov, and click on “education.”

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

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