Amid rising costs, VCU asks Virginia to pay for tuition waivers

Tables highlighting military benefits outside the Military Student Services office in Harris Hall. VCU is asking the state to make up the difference for a program that waives tuition and fees for dependents of disabled veterans. Photo by Anthony Doung.

Jack Glagola, News Editor

The cost of a program that waives tuition and fees for survivors and dependents of military service members is becoming unsustainable for VCU, according to a press release

The university is asking the state to pay for the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, the cost of which is currently covered by student tuition and fees, according to the press release.

The press release cited the program’s increasing cost — which has grown by about $13.8 million since 2017, according to a presentation by Karol Kain Gray, senior vice president and CFO of the university — as a reason for the state to support it. VCU also accounts for nearly 25% of all waivers in Virginia.

David Allen, assistant vice president at the Office of Budget, Analysis and Financial Planning, said in an email statement that expanded eligibility and growth of the VMSDEP has created “a need for sustained and reliable funding to ensure the continued success and accessibility of the program.” 

Between 2019 and 2023, eligibility for the program has been greatly expanded — most notably in 2022, when it was extended to stepchildren of qualifying service members, according to the program’s factsheet.

The growing numbers, combined with “the greater demand for educational opportunities from military members and their families,” have driven up the cost significantly, Allen said.

Allen said any savings resulting from state funding would be put toward general needs of the university that have been affected by budget cuts and tuition hikes.

Stephen Ross, director of Military Student Services, said the VMSDEP program used to be for combat-related disabilities only.

“After they changed the legislation, so that it encompassed all disability ratings — it no longer had to be combat related — our numbers have grown steadily,” he said. “We’re always trying to educate the public on the availability of this program, so we’ve seen the numbers increase and more and more students utilizing that benefit.”

Ross said that VCU has a large population of military students receiving benefits, especially the GI Bill, a federal program which reimburses the cost of tuition and fees for veterans. This is different from the VMSDEP, which waives tuition and fees with no reimbursement from the state or federal government, he said.

VCU has 327 military students, including active duty, reserves and veterans, according to the Institutional Research and Decision Support office.

Military Friendly — a rating organization that surveys schools based on opportunities for veterans and others in the “military community,” according to their website — ranked VCU on the “Silver” tier of higher education institutions. 

A “Silver” ranking indicates that the institution is “within 20% of the 10th-ranked organization,” according to the website.

Ross said the state of Virginia works hard to help military families by providing programs like VMSDEP.

“There’s a lot of military families in Virginia and a lot of people that have a disability rating as a result of their service, and that’s a great benefit,” Ross said.

Editor’s note: Clarifications and corrections for “Amid rising costs, VCU asks Virginia to pay for tuition waivers.” The cost of the program is covered, not supplemented, by the university’s tuition revenue.

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