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State

Southern Illinois wants funding restored for veteran tuition

CARBONDALE – Southern Illinois University officials hope the new governor will fund a decades-old state commitment to cover the cost of veterans’ higher education, even though no college has been reimbursed under the grant program for years.

The Illinois Veterans Grant, created in 1967, pays for all Illinois veterans’ tuition and required fees at its public colleges, community colleges and universities if they return to the state to study after completing their service. The state offers similar support to National Guard service members.

But Illinois has not reimbursed any university’s veteran education fees under the program since the 2012 fiscal year. SIU Carbondale officials said they face the highest cost burden in terms of waived tuition and fees because more veterans attend that school through the program than any other college in the state, the Southern Illinoisan reported .

In fiscal 2018, SIUC waived more than $2.5 million worth of tuition to 319 veterans and waived over $1 million more to 145 National Guard service members.

In 2016, SIUC’s state backing was slashed by about $73 million, from the preceding year. That year, SIUC waived $4,786,300 in veteran tuition with no repayment.

“We’re very proud of our student veterans and their service to our country and the unique perspective they bring to our campuses,” said John Charles, SIU’s director for governmental and public affairs. “It would be nice as the state regains its financial health that they would reassume the grant funding.”

Paul Copeland, veterans services coordinator at SIU Carbondale, said veterans who qualify for the grant and receive federal GI benefits are particularly attracted to the Carbondale campus because of the low cost of living in that part of the state.

The structure of the grant program never promised a state refund, said Lynne Baker, managing director of communications at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which used to process the IVG and National Guard Grant payouts.

To Illinois’ university officials, the shifting accountability for financing the grant is one of many issues that illustrate the state’s considerable divestment from higher education. Public university operations subsidies in fiscal 2018 were less than 50% of the funding in 2002, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has advocated for increases to university subsidies and additional Illinois Monetary Award Program grants for students with financial needs, but his office sidestepped a reporter’s question about the future of the veterans subsidy. Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh instead cited other areas of the higher education budget where the governor has proposed tens of millions of dollars in new funding.

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