FORT WAYNE — Gov. Mike Pence was surrounded by uniformed ROTC members Thursday as he signed into law a bill to give veterans in-state tuition rates even if they don’t meet residency requirements.
Senate Enrolled Act 177, authored by Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, guarantees in-state tuition for qualified veterans and those serving in the Indiana National Guard when they take undergraduate courses at state colleges and universities.
Many times, Banks said, those serving in the military change their address to wherever they are deployed. When they return to Indiana at the end of their service, they discover they are regarded as nonresidents and have to pay more than double to go to school.
“It’s heartbreaking to me that the unemployment rate for returning servicemen and women is about double the average,” Pence said. “By helping our returning veterans have better access to higher education, it will help the overall economy, as well. This is an important step forward toward doing right by our veterans.”
Pence was about a half-hour late for the event after a minor traffic crash in Indianapolis (see adjoining story).
More importantly, the original bill passed by the Indiana House and Senate remained in the SUV when Pence and his entourage changed vehicles afterward, so he had to sign a copy in Fort Wayne.
“We’ll sign it into law this evening,” Pence told Banks, handing him one of the pens he used to sign the facsimile. “Then we’ll get you a copy of that one, even though it might be a little smudged.”
After the signing, Pence shook hands and clasped high-fives with IPFW’s ROTC members present at the signing.
One of them, Kalene Schwartz, said she appreciates the legislation.
“I’ve never met a government official before, so it’s a real honor to be here,” Schwartz said. “You always hear about veterans struggling when they get back from a deployment, so this is always a great thing.”
Banks said most people would rightly assume that most members of the Indiana National Guard are already state residents. But some are not, he said, and the law – which takes effect July 1 – will not only help them but will also be a tool recruiters can use on campus to lure out-of-state students into joining the Guard to get lower tuition.
IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein said of the nearly 14,000 students at IPFW, 362 are receiving veterans’ benefits this semester.
About 4 percent of those are not Indiana residents, she said, and would likely qualify under the new law.