TXEXplainer: The Hazlewood Act

For nearly a century, the Hazlewood Act has helped Texas veterans pay for college. But burgeoning costs and possible changes to the act have questions swirling about its future.

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What is the Hazlewood Act?

The Hazlewood Act is a state law that covers the cost of tuition for military veterans and, in some cases, their children and spouses. Its origins date back to 1923, when the Texas Legislature directed universities to cover college costs for World War I veterans, nurses, and their children. The law excluded veterans who already qualify for federal tuition benefits, as well as those who were dishonorably discharged—two provisions still in place today.

The benefit is applicable at public college or university in the state and is named in honor of the late Texas Sen. Grady Hazlewood, a 1926 UT Law graduate nicknamed the “Gray Fox” for his silver locks and his quiet, unassuming ability to get legislation passed smoothly. In 1944, he helped update the act for veterans of World War II.

Qualifying students are exempt from paying tuition and fees for up to 150 credit hours of coursework, which is more than enough for most bachelor’s degree programs. Under a legacy provision passed in 2009, veterans may also transfer unused credit hours to their children. If a veteran dies or is disabled as a result of military service, their spouse and children each become eligible for 150 hours of credit.

Few other states offer veterans such generous tuition benefits, and the act has been warmly received by Texas lawmakers on both ends of the political spectrum. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, BBA ’81, Life Member, even included it in his higher education priorities.

How many UT-Austin students take advantage of the Hazlewood Act?

According to assistant registrar Vasanth Srinivasa, UT-Austin awarded Hazlewood exemptions to 1,030 students in 2014.

Someone has to pay for all this, right?

The cost of Hazlewood benefits has fallen primarily on universities. Picking up the tab for a few thousand veterans was not a heavy burden just after World War II, when tuition at Texas public colleges was a mere $4 per credit and the majority of universities’ budgets came from state funds. But these days, the cost of college has dramatically outpaced inflation, and only 13 percent of UT’s funding comes from the state—all of which means colleges are increasingly relying on tuition to keep the lights on. Meanwhile, figuring out how to pay for Hazlewood is becoming a significant problem. The UT System estimates that it lost $38.8 million to veterans’ waivers in 2013 alone. Across all Texas colleges, the total bill was $169 million last year. That amount is predicted to rise by 16 percent each year until 2019.

Anticipating this problem, the Texas Legislature allotted $30 million toward future Hazlewood costs, but that won’t be enough. According to UT System estimates, that amount will only cover about 20 percent of the total cost to Texas colleges and universities each year.

That’s troubling. So what are some possible solutions?

One solution would be for lawmakers to increase state funding for the act. Although finding new revenue is an extremely tall order in an era when state funding for education has been steadily trickling away, that’s precisely what some higher education advocates—including UT System chancellor Bill McRaven—are pushing for. McRaven and others have made the argument that if universities can’t afford Hazlewood costs, they will be forced to pass the burden onto non-veteran students in the form of increased tuition and fees. “When the state is not in the position to provide us those funds, then invariably it comes back and that goes on to other students that are coming in,” McRaven told the Daily Texan. “All we’re asking is that the state consider [funding Hazlewood] because if not, what happens is that money that had been expected from the state is now impacting our ability to educate other young men and women.”

Of course, another way to cut costs would be to limit the number of veterans eligible for Hazlewood. But nobody wants to do that. In addition to the intuitive appeal of rewarding veterans for their sacrifices, Texas veterans tend to be the type of college student who could benefit the most from a little help. They’re more likely than other students to be male, low-income, non-white, and the first in their families to attend college. That’s the type of college student who is most likely to take longer to graduate or even drop out entirely without a strong support system in place.

Got it. Anything else I should know?

Complicating the picture further is the fact that a recent judicial ruling could expand the Hazlewood Act and increase costs astronomically. In late January, a federal judge ruled that one of the act’s requirements—that veterans must have entered service within Texas to qualify—is unconstitutional. “Texas may not discriminate against its more recent residents in favor of more established residents simply to control costs,” wrote U.S. district judge Ewing Werlein Jr. in his ruling, which meant that the University of Houston had to pay tuition for plaintiff Keith Harris. Harris has been a Texas resident since 2004, but he enlisted in 1996 while living in Georgia. In his lawsuit, Harris cited the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the constitutional right to travel. So far, the ruling is not applicable beyond Harris’ individual case, but if the decision is upheld, it could portend an expansion that would make the act even more expensive. The state’s appeal is pending.

Some lawmakers have speculated that veterans from other states would even move to Texas to take advantage of free tuition. That’s a possibility that assistant attorney general Chip Roy says is in conflict with the original intention of the act. “The Hazlewood Act was designed to provide two things,” Roy told the Houston Chronicle. “First, an additional incentive to kids in Texas to join the military after high school. Second, encouragement to return to Texas after service to pursue their education.”

Photo by Thomas Allison for the Daily Texan

 

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