The UNC system’s residency and tuition policies for student veterans are receiving heightened scrutiny after one veteran has attracted more than 144,000 supporters in her battle for in-state tuition.
Hayleigh Bruch-Perez, an Iraq war veteran, was originally admitted to UNC-Pembroke in November 2011 but was denied in-state tuition. Perez was also admitted to Fayetteville State University, where she was granted in-state tuition.
Perez, who has owned a home in the state since 2008, moved to Texas in 2009 due to her husband’s military orders. She maintains she was incorrectly classified as out-of-state by UNC-P, and she enlisted the help of the Student Veterans Advocacy Group to appeal the decision — which was denied.
In light of that decision, Perez enrolled at private Methodist University. But she remains an advocate for veterans who want to use G.I. Bill benefits, which cover only in-state tuition at public universities.
On Oct. 11, Perez launched an online petition through change.org. The petition had more than 144,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
“My petition was put together to bring to light the fact that there are inconsistencies in the UNC school system for determination of residency purposes,” Perez said.
The petition calls for the system to mandate proper, in-depth reviews of veterans’ bids for in-state tuition.
Jason Thigpen, president of Student Veterans Advocacy, said the group will help Perez submit her petition to the system’s General Administration Tuesday.
“We want absolutely nothing more than to be walking side-by-side with the administration and say that they embody ‘military friendly,’ but they don’t,” Thigpen said. “This has never been about me, Hayleigh alone or any other veteran that we’ve individually represented. It’s about doing the right thing.”
Thigpen said he is considering the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the system if the petition doesn’t resolve the situation.
Thigpen and Perez met with Kimrey Rhinehardt, system vice president for federal relations, last week to discuss Perez’s case.
Rhinehardt said residency rules are set by the state legislature, and the system is not authorized to change them.
Rhinehardt said the administration employs five people who work with military issues — but the residency issue is complicated.
“Frankly, I think the rules are intentionally complex — an in-state tuition benefit is paid for by the taxpayers of North Carolina,” she said. “Those taxpayers expect that benefit is available to those of us who have lived here.”
Perez’s husband received orders to relocate to North Carolina in April. Rhinehardt said that if Perez had applied after that date, she would have received in-state tuition.
“The fact that Pembroke gave her out-of-state tuition, whereas Fayetteville gave her in-state is evidence of how imperfect this process is — it’s a process we must clean up,” she said, adding that UNC-system President Thomas Ross is looking closely at the issue.
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