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Dr. R. Scott Ralls

Dr. R. Scott Ralls, President, North Carolina Community College System

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to enter testimony into the record regarding H.R. 3483, the Veteran’s Education Equity Act of 2011. I represent a System of 58 colleges that provides education and workforce training to almost 900,000 North Carolinians annually – approximately one out of every eight adults in our state. 

Ours is a system that grew out of an innovation to foster statewide economic prosperity through workforce development. Founded on the concept of educating and training persons for jobs they had not previously performed, our colleges have transformed into centers of education and innovation, responsive to a 21st century knowledge-based economy whose employers not only demand - but expect - a highly skilled, highly trained workforce that we are called upon to provide. Our “open door” philosophy is rooted in the belief ascribed to by one of our founders, Dr. Dallas Herring, where we take every student from where they are in life and take them as far as they can go to be productive members of our society.

Since 2008, our colleges have grown by over 33,000 students, or roughly the size of one of our flagship state universities, North Carolina State University.  Whether it is due to job layoffs, constricting family finances, or persons with 4-year degrees coming to our colleges to be retrained for job-ready fields of work, more individuals are turning to our community colleges as the pathway to further their educational goals.  Those returning in increasing numbers also include our nation’s servicemen and women.

North Carolina is proud to be the most military friendly state in the union.  With major military bases at Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Seymour Johnson, and Cherry Point, our state takes tremendous pride in supporting members of our country’s armed services and their families. Through partnerships like those at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, Fayetteville Technical Community College in Fayetteville, Wayne Community College in Goldsboro or Craven Community College in New Bern, our colleges maintain close connections with our armed services to ensure that our military members are well served and equipped with the skills they need to be successful in their military careers and beyond.

Equally important is the value we place on our United States veterans.  Whether relocating in our state to begin retirement, or in many cases to begin a second career, our community colleges provide the instruction and training for our veterans to succeed in a new phase of their lives.  As a System, we are concerned that changes made in the Post 9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2011 (PL 111-377) caused unintended consequences to our non-resident veterans.  While acting in good faith to contain the overall program costs, the bill had the net effect of reducing benefits for veterans who for tuition purposes are classified as out-of-state residents.

The interpretation being made to limit tuition and fees at public institutions to the applicable institution’s in-state tuition rate for both in-state and out-of-state Veterans unintentionally disadvantages out-of-state veterans who wish to attend public institutions in North Carolina. In the 2010-11 academic year, over 700 veterans attending North Carolina’s community colleges were adversely affected by this interpretation.  One student at Pitt Community College expressed the hardships she now faced in terms of deferring her education because of the inability to now afford tuition.  “I was told I had full benefits no matter where I lived…I feel this is (a) mistreatment to veterans who have served their country”.  When discussing the plight of former military servicemen and women, another student-veteran remarked, “They are now being told that their out-of-state tuition won’t be covered as it once was, causing many of them to be unable to afford their education.”

Fortunately, the bill you have before you for consideration, H.R. 3483, the Veterans Education Equity Act of 2011, will enable Veterans to receive this benefit that they previously enjoyed prior to changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  Due to the leadership of North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield, and joined by Howard Coble, Walter Jones, Larry Kissell, Mike McIntyre, Brad Miller, David Price, Mel Watt and 50 other Representatives, H.R. 3483 will allow the affected veteran population to receive the greater of (1) actual net costs for in-state tuition or (2) $17,500 for the academic year beginning on August 1, 2011.

University of North Carolina System President Tom Ross and I co-authored a letter to the state’s congressional delegation respectfully requesting action to remedy this situation for our veterans.  Recently, our college presidents, working in concert with our local college boards of trustees, endorsed H.R. 3483 as a part of our system’s federal agenda.  Trustees had the opportunity to visit with our delegation last month to reiterate their support for this legislation. While this cannot be done without a cost, we sincerely believe that an educational opportunity for all of our servicemen and women is a price worth paying. It is in our state’s best interest to educate service members.  As President Ross and I acknowledged last year, service members are our best students – they graduate on time and they continue to grow our state’s economy.  With thousands of men and women set to return from tours of duty overseas, we owe it to them to reinstate this education benefit as recognition of their service to our country. This seems to be a small price to pay in exchange for what they have given to us.

Thank you for the opportunity to express our system’s support of this important piece of legislation.