UNC Denies Residency Status to Veteran – Charges Out-Of-State Tuition Rates

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

hayleigh perez UNC tuitionThe University of North Carolina is charging out-of-state tuition rates to a U.S. Army veteran who claims she has long maintained a residence within the state. Hayleigh Perez, 26, enlisted in the Army in 2005, and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. According to reporting by ABC News’s Susanna Kim, Perez deployed overseas in January 2007 for a 15-month tour. She returned in 2008 and was discharged in September 2009. She is married to an active-duty servicemember.

The couple own a home in North Carolina, but had been living in Texas for several years, where her husband was stationed. Now her husband has been transferred back to North Carolina.

Hayleigh is now trying to attend the University of North Carolina on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Benefits only cover in-state tuition costs. But the University has denied her application to residency status due to her absence from the state while she was living in Texas.

Ms. Perez appealed to the State Residency Board, which also denied her appeal.


Residency requirements and criteria are generally a function of state law. There is no uniform set of standards that apply across the country, and each state is free to set its own residency criteria for its own college and university systems.

The State of North Carolina points to the set of laws passed by the North Carolina legislature that guides officials on how to determine eligibility for in-state tuition.

Here is the Residency Manual published by the State of North Carolina specifically to define the criteria for college officials.

While it is true that applicants must generally demonstrate that they are domiciled in North Carolina to receive state tuition, page 16 of their own manual contains the following passage:

Under the special in-state tuition laws for active duty military personnel and their eligible family members, if a non-resident member of the armed services is stationed in North Carolina because of his or her active duty military service, then the service member as well as his or her spouse, dependent children, and dependent relatives who are living with the service member shall be charged the in-state tuition rate along with any applicable mandatory fees.

Perez’s husband received orders to return to North Carolina in April of 2012.

In addition, North Carolina defines the residency eligibility for dependents of active duty servicemembers in black letter law:

Any dependent relative of a member of the Armed Forces who is abiding in this State incident to active military duty, as defined by the Board of Governors of The University of North Carolina and by the State Board of Community Colleges while sharing the abode of that member shall be eligible to be charged the inState tuition rate, if the dependent relative qualifies for admission to an institution of higher education as defined in G.S. 116143.1(a)(3).

It is not clear why the residency board decided not to apply this part of the law in Perez’s case, though the law does say that she has to share the abode of her servicemember sponsor to qualify.

More details here. According to reporting from the Fayetteville Observer, Perez did not provide sufficient documentation to buttress her claim to residency. However, all it would take to demonstrate residency under the criteria established above would be a copy of her husband’s orders and a dependent military ID, along with documentation that she was sharing an abode with her husband. Fayetteville State University – another campus in the UNC system, accepted her residency status – it was only the UNC-Pembroke campus that did not.

Sandy Briscar, acting as a spokesperson for the University of North Carolina Pembroke, declined to comment on Perez’s case specifically, citing HIPAA concerns, other than to say that Perez had applied for the spring semester, and at that time, she had not submitted sufficient documentation to UNC Pembroke to demonstrate that she was entitled to residency status.

One issue: Timing. According to Pembroke campus spokesperson Sandy Briscar, Perez applied for the spring semester – which was almost over by the time her husband arrived in North Carolina in April.

If you are considering applying for in-state tuition in a state you plan to move to after receiving PCS orders, it may make sense to ask, in writing, if the campus will accept PCS orders as proof of domicile for the purpose of establishing residency. If the school responds in writing, you have something to include with your application – and something on which to base an appeal if the residency decision doesn’t go your way.

Jodi Worthington, a spokesperson for the University of North Carolina system responded to our requests for more information. “Because Ms. Perez’s circumstances have changed and her husband is now stationed in North Carolina, she would be considered an in-state resident were she to re-apply to a UNC institution now,” said Worthington, both by phone and by email. “We would encourage her to do so.”

It was not immediately clear why her application for residency status was approved at Fayetteville State University but denied at Pembroke.

We asked the UNC if a military family could apply for in-state tuition status once they had the PCS orders in hand, or if they had to wait until they were actually present in North Carolina before the application could be approved, and why the two campuses came to different conclusions about her eligibility for residency status. At press time, the UNC has not responded. We will update this story when they do.

Meanwhile, Ms. Perez has decided to attend a private college in the area, where she intends to pursue a degree as a physician’s assistant.


Photo credit: ABC News


One response to “UNC Denies Residency Status to Veteran – Charges Out-Of-State Tuition Rates”

  1. We received an update from the UNC that clarifies some of the questions above. I’ve submitted it to MilitaryAuthority already, so stay tuned for the update.  
    Essentially, the issue was timing: NC residency rules require the servicemember’s PCS orders from out of state to be already effective, and he has to have already reported for duty. In this case, Perez had applied for the spring semester, according to multiple sources at UNC. This semester was almost over by the time her husband reported for duty in NC. Just having PCS orders transferring the family to North Carolina is not sufficient to qualify – even if the family is already present in the state.  
    You need to submit a command verification of residency – basically a letter on unit stationery – confirming that the servicemember has already reported for duty at the gaining unit.  
    According to UNC, if she applies now, since her husband is already in the state, she would probably qualify for in-state tuition.  
    The update I’ve submitted will have more information and links to sample command verification letters.

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