Texas Vets Making Noise Over Tuition Benefits Threat

For over 90 years Texas has offered veteran's free college tuition under the Hazlewood Act. Amongst other things it gives veterans 150 hours of free tuition. In 2009 the act was expanded to allow unused hours to transfer to a veteran's spouse or child. But now the costs of this act are spiraling and veterans want to make sure Hazlewood is protected.

Brian Wilson from Lone Star Veterans would say Texas vets are upset right now.

“There’s lots of veterans who use the Hazlewood Act to go get a graduate degree … Not every veteran qualifies for the GI Bill so you’ll see a lot of veterans who say, 'The Hazlewood Act is the only real source I have to get an education as a veteran in the State of Texas.'”

The Hazlewood Act allowed Gulf War Veteran Tommy McClung to get his graduate degree. Meanwhile his unused hours were transferred to his daughter under the legacy part of the Act.

He feels it’s an adequate reward for his service.

“When I left my wife and children that morning, the pain that you see on people’s faces that you love just by your separation and knowing that the burdens they have to carry while you are gone. I think the recognition of the Hazlewood Act that extends beyond the veteran is very appropriate.”

But the state is hurting from the cost. In 2011 the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, or THECB, put the cost of both acts at $75 million dollars. In 2012 that jumped to $111 million.

While that $111 million is about 2% of the overall net tuition costs and fees that Texas universities receive that kind of growth is not sustainable. Which is something the THECB explained to the Senate Committee on Higher Education this month.

Senator Leticia Van De Putte from San Antonio who introduced the Hazlewood Legacy Act in 2009 heard their pleas.

“I would like to help mitigate some of the constraints faced by our universities because of Hazlewood. We want our campuses and universities to be veteran friendly and not to be afraid to do that because of cost concerns.”

Senator Van De Putte along with Rep. Chris Turner from Arlington have proposed a bill to take funding from a program known as ‘B-On-Time’. If students receive a B average and complete their degree within four years those unused funds instead of returning to the state’s general revenue will be sent back to the college to be used for Hazlewood.

It’s a start, but Brian Wilson from Lone Star Veterans will be looking for more financial security. As will the over 1,200 people who signed their online petition supporting the Hazlewood Act.

“Our main goal right now is to let the Texas State Legislature, the lieutenant governor and the governor know that we do not want the Hazlewood Act to change unless it’s going to become something more permanent and something that we know will be around for future generations. If we don’t hear anything over the next few weeks, we are planning on organizing a team to actually go out and knock on doors at the state capitol.”

Perhaps Wilson has already been heard as right now there are 11 bills looking at the fine print on the Hazlewood Act filed in the Texas Legislature.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...