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Consumer Watch: In-state tuition rates to continue after transfer

Jul. 23, 2009 - 12:00PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 23, 2009 - 12:00PM  |  
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If you or your child attend a public college or university, your tuition bill might have just gotten a lot cheaper.

A law went into effect July 1 that makes members of the armed forces and their spouses and children eligible for in-state tuition in the state where they are permanently stationed, or in their domicile (home of record) state. It applies to Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard members on active duty for more than 30 days.

The law goes even further, continuing the benefit after the service member is reassigned to another duty station outside the state — which often happens before the student can finish four or five years of college.

For example, a family stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., that is transferred to another state before their child finishes college at Mississippi State University will save $7,352 a year in tuition. Before the law went into effect, military families were allowed in-state tuition while stationed in Mississippi, but that benefit didn't continue if the military member was transferred to another state, with some exceptions. In-state tuition at MSU will be $5,151 for the 2009-2010 school year; nonresidents will pay $12,503, according to the school's Web site.

The new provision is in Section 135 of Public Law 110-315, the Higher Education Opportunity Act, signed Aug. 14. It applies to each public institution of higher education in a state that receives assistance under the Higher Education Opportunity Act. All states currently do. The provision applies beginning with periods of enrollment that start after July 1.

While all states except for Vermont had changed laws by 2008 to provide in-state tuition rates for military families in the states where they were assigned, 15 states did not allow for continuity of eligibility once the service member was reassigned.

Education Department officials have been working with public colleges and universities to make sure they are aware of the new law and are putting it into practice. If you have trouble getting the lower rate because someone hasn't gotten the word, contact the financial aid or registrar's office, or the school's veterans affairs office.

If you still are unable to resolve the issue, the Education Department's ombudsman's office can help you. Call (877) 557-2575, 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. After you choose the English or Spanish option, press 0 to be connected quickly to an ombudsman. You can also fill out an http://www.ombudsman.ed.gov/about/contactus.html">online assistance request form.

More gift card options

Customers at Navy Exchange stores in the continental U.S. and in Hawaii can now buy some banks' and other businesses' gift and prepaid cards. Fees for the cards range from $3.95 to $6.95, depending on the amount of the gift card.

Among the offerings are prepaid wireless cards; financial gift cards from Visa, MasterCard and American Express; and gift cards for Starbucks, Subway and iTunes. The cards cannot be returned or refunded, and they have expiration dates, which vary by card.

Make sure you understand the terms and fees before you buy the card. If you are buying it for a gift, make sure the recipient knows when the card expires.

Regardless of your branch of service, you can shop at the Navy Exchange or at any other military exchange.

Breakfast to go

Navy Lodges in the U.S., like many of their civilian counterparts, are now giving guests free light breakfasts — ranging from a light "breakfast to go" with a snack item such as a granola bar, yogurt or muffin and a beverage, to a full continental breakfast at larger Navy lodges.

Officials estimate that by offering a family of four a continental breakfast, they save that family about $150 over a six-night, five-day stay.

Beginning this fall, overseas Navy Lodges plan to give each guest a welcome bag with snacks, breakfast items, bottled water and information about the area in a reusable cloth bag.

For a Navy Lodge directory or to make a reservation, https://www.navy-lodge.com/index.html">visit the Web site or call (800) NAVY-INN (628-9466). Like http://www.dodlodging.com/dodlodging/index.html">other military lodging facilities, they are open to members of any service branch.

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