TAMPA — All military veterans would pay in-state tuition rates at Florida’s public universities and colleges under legislation moving through the state Capitol, potentially saving those students tens of thousands of dollars on their education.
“I believe that Florida is truly a vet-friendly state, but we’re missing the mark on this one,” said state Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Republican from South Pasadena who is a sponsor of the House bill. “To me, their service is an unconditional love for their country and the citizens that live here.
“When they come back, I don’t believe we should make them wait another year in order to continue their career that they already put on hold, or make them endure the financial burden of paying out-of-state tuition for one year.”
The legislation would waive the current standard one-year requirement for newcomers to establish residency before they qualify for in-state tuition. Twenty-six states currently waive residency requirements for student veterans.
The impact could be significant for the roughly 2,400 non-resident vets attending Florida’s public universities and colleges. The State University System, made up of the 12 public universities, said the average undergraduate tuition around the state for two semesters is $6,155 for residents and $21,434 for non-residents.
For graduate students, the average cost for two semesters is $10,262 for residents and $25,138 for non-residents.
“It would help me out quite a bit,” said Kelly Matisi, a Marine Corps veteran who is finishing a bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida before continuing in the school’s doctor of physical therapy program.
Matisi transferred from a university in her home state of Texas because of the reputation of the USF program, knowing she would face much higher tuition here. She intends to work with wounded veterans when she completes the program.
“I’m looking to give back,” she said. “We appreciate the benefits that we have, but just because I go to school in another state, I have to pay three, four, five times the in-state rate. I was in the U.S. Marine Corps, not the Texas Marine Corps.”
Matisi is the exception to the typical scenario, said Larry Braue, USF’s director of veterans services. “We’re losing a lot of quality veterans that would have come here but don’t because of the financial burden of out-of-state tuition,” Braue said.
“I keep thinking about the talent we could attract to Florida out of the service if we had this.”
A Senate analysis of the legislation estimates that the state university system as a whole would forego about $8.2 million in tuition revenue a year if the out-of-state veterans don’t pay full freight.
Despite that, university presidents support the legislation.
“I’m personally committed to knocking down any barrier that stands in the way of supporting our veterans’ quest for higher education,” Florida State University President Eric Barron said at a Capitol press conference this week. “Out-of-state tuition is certainly one of those barriers to accessibility, and it’s one that we can knock down for the men and women who have served our nation in active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, is the sponsor on the Senate side.
It is the third attempt to provide the tuition break in the Florida Legislature. A bill passed the state House last year, but turned into a complex committee bill that died in the Senate. That measure included a controversial provision granting in-state tuition to students who live here regardless of their parents’ immigration status.
Peters said she would attempt to keep this year’s legislation clean of controversial amendments.
Lawmakers are in Tallahassee this week for what is known as a “committee week,” conducting hearings, committee business and other work in advance of the spring legislative session. Latvala’s Senate bill has already passed out of its first committee.