The cost of higher education is frustrating for veterans and military dependents, too

Even with the frustration in the increasing cost of education each year, veterans and military dependents have had difficulty communicating with Veterans Affairs.

By: Alexis Faire
Features Reporter

Before coming to the University of Alabama, Netty Short didn’t think she would actually be able to go to college. She said, at the time, she was a server and was unable to pay for a college tuition. She wanted to attend Alabama, but to do that, she had to find a way to cover the cost.

The cost of higher education increases each year, and according to BuzzFeed News, tuition could reach an all-time high of $500,000 for private institutions and about $25,000 for public institutions over the next 18 years.

Short, a junior majoring in management information systems, is the daughter of a veteran who spent 30 years in the United States Air Force. After she found out that she could receive her father’s Post-9/11 benefits to attend school, the transition was not an easy task.

“When I first started, it took me almost six months to get everything going because they were so slow with having to work with everything,” she said. “So, I think that was also an issue with the payments.”

Even with the frustration in the increasing cost of education each year, veterans and military dependents have had difficulty communicating with Veterans Affairs.

Randall Wade, a senior majoring in Spanish at the University, is also an infantryman for the United States Army. He receives full tuition, a $1,200 book scholarship and a monthly stipend from the government.

While his tuition is completely covered, he said he has experienced difficulties meeting payment deadlines because the deadline at the University is earlier than when VA disperses the funding. He said his opinion on this issue is his own and not a reflection of the United States Military.

“Initially, outside of the Army ROTC program, it’s kind of difficult to get ahold of VA because the University of Alabama’s deadline for what needs to be paid, and the Army’s deadline for what needs to be paid are usually about two weeks off,” he said. “So, for two weeks, I either don’t have books or something is not paid. It’s kind of chaotic.”

Wade, along with many other veterans and military dependents, have to explain to their professors each semester why they don’t have the necessary materials needed when classes begin. Because of the separate deadlines, it often appears that students are not registered for the classes when they are.

“Typically, I talk to whoever my professors are and say I can’t get my books for two more weeks,” Wade said. “Or, I’ll go to the dean or talk to whoever and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on. This is why it looks like I don’t exist in the system.’”

The Office of Veteran and Military Affairs at the University of Alabama was created in 2012 to help serve as place for students to talk to people who are familiar with the different scholarships and to serve as a voice for the students involved with military affairs.

Alex Bynum, assistant director of the Office of Military Affairs, said she thinks state funding is extremely limited for higher education, especially for something that is needed more often for the job market.

“Higher education is given a sliver because there’s this implicit bias that thinks that the individual walking in should pay for their college degree,” she said. “And high school and K-12 is something that we compulsory have to do. It’s now becoming in the job market that college is something you have to do in order to enter the workforce.”

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, overall state funding for higher education has decreased, with the state of Alabama being down 30 percent since the beginning of the recession. This action has caused large cuts for public colleges and universities, thus the increase for tuition.

Bynum said the government has certain restrictions for those receiving government funding.

“Because they [the government] have really weird restrictions, they keep changing the law, and what we’re just seeing is that it’s gonna go away, and I think that’s a lack of supporting our dependents and veterans in this state,” she said. “I think we can do a lot more than what we’re doing. And I think the criteria can be a little different to actually serve the population that it’s intended to serve.”

Short said she believes communication with students needs to improve from the VA, so the students have a better understanding and smooth transition for when they will be given the aid they need. That’s why she decided to become a VMA ambassador at the University.

“For me, that’s why I wanted to become an ambassador, because I went through the trials and the tribulations when I first started,” she said. “I could not get them to communicate with me and let me know when I could start school. It took me almost from six months to a year to get started, which I feel like is a little too long. My dad was also going through retirement. I think the scholarships that are involved with veterans and dependents is a pretty good system that they have. It’s just on the VA side – they kinda need to work out the kinks.”

The University of Alabama is not the only school that faces these issues. Institutions all over the country share the same problems. However, until communication improves among all parties involved, veteran and military dependent students will continue to face those struggles.

“I’ve been in higher education, full-time, for eight years, and I’ve been in school as a student – on that side – for 13 years,” she said. “Being on Veteran and Military Affairs is a whole other perspective that I never considered before.”