Hazlewood Act benefits should be reserved for Texas veterans

Mary Dolan

One of the biggest issues that college students face today is the rising cost of higher education.  

Paying for college can be a difficult task even for students who come from relatively comfortable backgrounds. And for those who have faced financial obstacles, finding a way to pay for a degree can seem like a nearly impossible task. 

The Texas Veterans Commission has tried to ease this burden for many students. Many families have had immediate relatives, such as parents or spouses, who served in the military and were killed or significantly disabled while serving. Recognizing the undue financial strain placed on these families, the state created the Hazlewood Act, which the commission administers. The Hazlewood Act allows veterans who were either disabled as a result of military service or were honorably discharged after more than 181 days of service to be eligible for waived tuition at any of Texas’ public institutions of higher education. The benefit of waived tuition can also be passed on to the children or spouse of the veteran. 

It seems pretty simple. The program was designed by a Texas-based organization, the Texas Veterans Commission, and it was intended to benefit Texans. However, the Hazlewood Act came under fire in January after U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. struck down a part of the act that specified that veterans and their families may only receive benefits if the veteran enlisted while living in Texas.  

As a result, concerns have been raised that veterans who enlisted in other states could move to Texas to take advantage of the benefits of free tuition. 

These concerns are definitely valid, as the Hazlewood Act cost Texas’ public universities $169.1 million to cover 39,000 students in 2014, according to the Legislative Budget Board. If the program stays open for non-Texas residents, however, the Texas Veterans Commission estimates that the cost of the program could grow to nearly $750 million and beyond, according to a recent Austin American-Statesman article.  

This is worrisome, as the responsibility of paying for the Hazlewood Act rests mostly on the shoulders of the universities in which the program beneficiaries are enrolled. The state picks up only about $15 million of the tab every year, according to the Statesman. This amounts to less than 10 percent of the program’s cost in 2014. 

The Texas Attorney General’s office plans to appeal Werlein’s ruling. Senator Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed apprehension concerning the new eligibility requirements program, stating, “This is something we really, really, really need to figure out how we’re going to address this.”  

This statement by Nelson surely echoes the thoughts of others on the committee. Even Gov. Greg Abbott called for the state to cover the cost of the program while he was on the campaign trail, according to the Statesman. 

After all, the current method of paying for the Hazlewood Act would be unsustainable when Werlein’s ruling is taken into account. With universities picking up over 90 percent of the tab, it surely would not be long before universities balked at the prospect of paying the price. And if forced to pay by the state, most colleges would probably resort to bringing in the necessary funds by the traditional means — raising the cost of tuition. This would in turn place a larger financial strain on students and their families. It could even hurt the families covered by the Hazlewood Act if they are only covered for a certain amount of hours. 

It would be an understatement to say that the Hazlewood Act is a generous program. Without it, many families would be stuck in dire financial situations without any means to pay for college. However, the benefits of the program should only be reserved for those veterans who enlisted while in Texas. By opening up the program for all veterans, we risk financial disaster and further hurting families who already face the burden of paying for higher education.

Dolan is a journalism freshman from Abilene. Follow Dolan on Twitter @mimimdolan.