By STEPHEN INGBER
Capital News Service
LANSING – A constitutional amendment that would give all service members and veterans in-district community college tuition regardless of where they live could be on the ballot in 2014.
With thousands of returning service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many are accessing educational benefits from the federal government.
The state constitutional amendment would provide returning veterans with more affordable college options, according to a legislative analysis.
But opponents say the amendment would hurt colleges by reducing tuition that comes from the federal government not students.
According to the College Board, the average tuition rate nationally in 2013 for a two-year institution is $3,131.
Michigan students on average pay $85 a credit hour for in-district tuition versus $140 an hour for out-of-district tuition, according to the Michigan Community College Association.
According to the legislative analysis, if the amendment passes, the amount of tuition lost per community college is undetermined since it would be based on enrollment.
Two similar proposed constitutional amendments would require public universities to charge all veterans in-state tuition.
Many veterans receive government benefits including those under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill.
Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, opposes the amendment.
“Even though I support veterans and everything they do, the amendment doesn’t make sense because the federal government, not individual veterans, pay the tuition,” Hansen said.
“The federal government pays directly,” he said. “It doesn’t help the veterans and it hurts the colleges.”
The amendment was proposed by Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, the first legislator who is a veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.
“There is a large misconception that the federal government pays for everything. Many times veterans have to pay the remaining percentage of tuition when that money can be better spent feeding their families or putting clothes on their back,” Knezek said.
“I served with many brave men and women both stateside and overseas during my time in the Marine Corps, many of whom come home looking to make a smooth transition into the civilian world, be it work or college,” Knezek said. “The least we can do for the people who honorably serve our country is to ease their transition into college by guaranteeing them in-state tuition.”
“Kirtland Community College supports the concept of the amendment, since we are already a military friendly college,” said Thomas Quinn, president of Kirtland Community College in Roscommon.
Quinn said a lot of programs that support veterans are not well known by the public. For example, Kirtland was the first in the country to offer returning military police a fast tracked program to train for local and state police operations.
However, Olin Joynton, president of Alpena Community College, said “I am extremely grateful to our nation’s veterans and can understand the emotional appeal to give more benefits to the nation’s servicemen and women but we stand with the Michigan Community College Association’s stance that the amendment is not necessary.”
Alpena’s financial aid officers work closely with its veterans and their families to provide excellent service, Joynton said.
If the amendment passes, Michigan will be the 15th state to charge in-district community college tuition to veterans.
Knezek said, “This bill will be an attraction tool to the state because it is removing financial barriers for veterans to attend Michigan’s great selection of universities and colleges.”
Other sponsors include Reps: Harvey Santana, D-Detroit; Scott Dianda, D-Calumet; Douglas Geiss, D- Taylor; and Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes.
The proposal is pending in the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.