OT: Update to the Student Veteran Policy at UM - RE: Claim of Discrimination

Submitted by nmumike on February 25th, 2013 at 7:23 AM

SInce I work with returning Veterans every day, and am a Veteran myself (I know, cool story bro), I wanted to get the story straight about the policy regarding the Veterans. If you recall there was a Vet from Dearborn who was charged 10k extra because of an error with his state residency, and his claim that Veterans are being disciminated against. The board had his story up here on Feb 17th...

I wrote a letter to the PR folks at Michigan and they sent me the letter that they sent to WDIV in Detroit. They have taken the story down from their website.Hopefully this clears things up for everyone.

From: Rick Fitzgerald
Office of Public Affairs

We were quite surprised to see your news report Thursday night on the student veteran at UM-Dearborn who addressed the U-M Board of Regents that afternoon.

What surprised us the most was that you accepted everything the student said as fact without asking the student for documentation or checking with anyone at the university.

Your report indicated that because of a residency policy UM-Dearborn had lost 40 percent of its veterans this semester. Had you checked with us we could have told you that student veteran enrollment at UM-Dearborn is off by only 9 percent (12 students) this semester compared to fall semester and enrollment of veterans has been virtually constant (119, 115, 118) during the winter semester for the past three years.

Your report also contains numerous other inaccuracies. However, federal student privacy law prohibits us from sharing these specifics without first getting the student’s permission. We hope you will take that step so we can more fully respond to the inaccuracies.

We can tell you that U-M does not use its residency policy against veterans with overseas deployments to charge them out-of-state tuition. Actually we have an extensive policy designed to do just the opposite.

At the University of Michigan we value the hundreds of students on our three campuses who have served in the military. That’s why we fully participate in the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program and two of our three campuses are on the list of “military friendly” schools. And that’s why we have facilitated a veteran support network on each campus.

Perhaps there is even more we can do to support veterans at U-M. But to say we discriminate against them because of their overseas deployment is grossly inaccurate.


Benoit Balls

February 25th, 2013 at 9:24 AM ^

gone are the days of worrying about such trifles as accuracy. The most important thing now is being "first" with something. If you end up being wrong, well, there is so much other flotsam and jetsam out there, any inaccuracies get lost in the wash.

A sad state of affairs. On the bright side, it has greatly increased the effectiveness of my internal BS filter.


February 25th, 2013 at 8:13 AM ^

Of course there was more to the story. Unfortunately, the news outlets won't print or broadcast the correction because its not nearly as sensational as the original story. Media outlets aren't nearly as concerned with accuracy as they are about ad dollars.


February 25th, 2013 at 8:42 AM ^

If you read the mgoboard posts from the other thread, UM's response actually mirrors what most veterans here reported (veteran outreach campaign, military friendly, Yellow Ribbon, etc.). It seemed to just be the people unfamiliar w/ the process that shouted, "Injustice!"

More than anything, most of the issues arise w/ the initial processing/determination of residency paperwork. UM (or any other school) can't afford to blindly accept every veteran package as in-state without doing their due diligence. Similar to how the VA delays students' reimbursement in the first semester of school, everything gets retroactively paid a couple months after school starts.


February 25th, 2013 at 9:23 AM ^

the plaintiff had moved his residency to Texas or Florida or another state where taxes are less, including auto registration, etc., and then deployed to Afghanistan. You can retain your state residency or shift it as you move with the military, and they will move you back to your home state or any place closer when you get out. My guess is this guy shifted his residency when he was homeported in Florida for tax reasons as is common, without thinking of the downstream ramifications.

It says on this page you must remain a resident (most likely measured by filing taxes and through auto registration) to get in state tuition: http://www.ro.umich.edu/resreg.php

And here they offer the opportuntyi to apply for in state tuition for service members and their families if they are stationed in Michigan: http://vets.umich.edu/content/special-tuition-waiver-full-time-military

Agreed, the press should have done a little more digging to establish the facts.

Of course, all that said, if the guy was in for four years and had previously resided in Michigan and paid taxes his whole life - well I could see doing the right thing for a service member. If he was in for ten and had early on shifted residency, well that is another deal.


February 25th, 2013 at 9:38 AM ^

I doubt he moved for tax purposes as Michigan doesn't consider active duty military income to be taxable.  Although if he was joint filing with someone, that other person may have prompted the move.  Plenty of other reasons to make the move though.  Or perhaps he forgot or was just plain lazy and didn't file state returns.  Michigan still wants its return to process, even though you just write a bunch of zeroes on the taxable income line.  

Maximinus Thrax

February 25th, 2013 at 10:07 AM ^

Your point on the taxation of active duty military pay is correct.  However, it is indeed common for individuals to change their residency to a state like Texas (which does not have an individual income tax) when they are stationed there to avoid having to file MI income tax returns.   


February 25th, 2013 at 10:15 AM ^

Yeah, but if you plan on asking Michigan for in state rates a couple years later, you should take the 15 minutes to fill out the MI return and report all zeroes.  I figure that is why this guy had to appeal, he didn't file and had to prove that during the time he wasn't filing he hadn't dodged any Michigan taxes  Once he proved that he got his in state rate and a refund for the out of state paid.

Of course I'm just speculating, odds are the guy didn't suffer discrimination, just lacked an unbroken chain of MI 1040s.  


February 25th, 2013 at 9:40 AM ^

Obviously this is a complicated situation and I don't think we're getting the full story here, but how exactly does this statement totally exonerate the university?

Other than the statement about veteran enrollment numbers, there are no factual rebuttals in the Univerity's statement. All they say is, don't worry guys, we try really hard to be nice to veterans. That's not really their fault, because of privacy laws, but it doesn't really solve the mystery either.

I suspect that the others here with military experience are correct and this guy probably changed his official state of residency at some point during his service, but the University statement gives us no clarification there. Of course, even then it would be nice if the University had a way to give in-state tuition for guys who only changed their residency because they were ordered into active duty (particularly since it doesn't sound like military personnel pay taxes on active duty pay in Michigan anymore).

In summary, I don't think the University is in the wrong, or at least not as wrong as the article made them out to be, but I'm confused why this boilerplate PR department letter has us suddenly all saying "oh they are totally cool why did I ever doubt them?"


February 25th, 2013 at 10:37 AM ^

does actually refute what the Veteran was claiming:

"And then I got a letter in the mail saying that due to my overseas service that I may be considered an out-of-state resident. I had a $6,000 bill that was left for me," Stone said.

The sophomore went before university leaders late Thursday afternoon on behalf of the Student Veterans Association. Stone believes the University of Michigan unfairly uses its residency policy against veterans with overseas tuition in order to charge them out-of-state tuition... This is from the Vet.

The University in turn states this:

"We can tell you that U-M does not use its residency policy against veterans with overseas deployments to charge them out-of-state tuition. Actually we have an extensive policy designed to do just the opposite."

I agree with you that this does not totally clear the university of some sort of red tape mixup or paperwork mishap, but at least it is something in the form of a response. I just wanted to bring the info to the attention of everyone, even though there may be more to this story...


February 25th, 2013 at 1:34 PM ^

Well if they have such an amazing and extensive policy,  how is it this guy was stuck with such a bill?

I had the misfortune of dealing with University bureaucracy more than once, it ain't pretty.




February 25th, 2013 at 3:27 PM ^

Because you have to go through the appropriate channels to make them aware of the situation, which the vet probably didn't do. I work for the university, and sometimes it is truly amazing how remarkably stupid some people can be (not saying he was...I'm speaking in general). People just expect us to know things that have changed in their life without going through the necessary channels, which is ridiculous with over 45K applications and over 40K students enrolled.

I'm not saying the system is perfect, but there are definitely ways to make sure you get what you need and to solve your problems. I've been a student for the past 6 years (now work here while in grad school) and frankly...if you have at least a little patience and treat them with some decency you should not have this many problems. Just don't go in with attitude, cause no one will want to help you...


February 25th, 2013 at 10:41 AM ^

So I have a suggestion.  Use not just the word "discrimination" but the phrase:  "discrimination or shoddy journalism?" (or something like that)

I even wonder if the word discrimination is appropriate here.  Is there any real evidence that the U treated a member of the military more poorly than the average student--who certainly may have his own complaints about out-of-state status?  Or is the question really whether the U did not give a member of the military "special treatment?".   One can certainly argue that he deserves the latter, but that would not be discrimination, IMO.


February 25th, 2013 at 10:28 AM ^

I can say that Michigan's residency policy (in non military situations) is skewed in favor of pushing for out of state tuition. My wife lived out of state for 3 years while she got her graduate degree at a private school. She worked for about a year before coming back to michigan.

She decided to change careers and go back to michigan, and by the time she reapplied she had; went to michigan for undergrad, has always had a michigan license, paid taxes in michigan all but one year of her working life, owned a house in michigan for 4 years, worked at the university for 3 years, and still had to fight to not pay out of state tuition because of her grad school.

To top it off, after completing her second degree and applying to the grad program at michigan, she again was first listed as out of state. Again, this was fixed, but I can understand how the university can make mistakes regarding in state and out of state residency status.

Feat of Clay

February 25th, 2013 at 11:10 AM ^

We ran into the same thing when my husband went back to grad school.  He had telecommuted for his last job so his employer was in CA.  He got red-flagged for residency.  

It didn't matter that no shortage of high-level people at the U know he's my spouse and know that we've been living in Michigan together for over 15 years.  When you get flagged, you have to cought up some extra documentation to the RO, or appeal.  

It might be a pain in the ass to go through the process, but I don't think U-M is out to trick true, qualified resident students into paying non-resident tuition.


February 25th, 2013 at 11:17 AM ^

They did explain that it was a red flag that she went to school out of state, however, it took more work than necessary to prove and took longer to receive that she was in state. It was also ridiculousness that 2 months after graduating as in state she had to prove it again. I think the university is set up to make as much money as possible and making it difficult to be rated as instate is one of them.

Feat of Clay

February 25th, 2013 at 12:04 PM ^

I have been here a long time, as a student and staff member.  Here is what I think the truth is:  It's bureaucracy, with prevention, not customer service, in mind.  

The U has procedures set up to make sure that undeserving students don't game the system.  To do that, that means that hundreds of normal, innocent, non-scumbag people have to go through a lot of paperwork bullshit, just to make it hard for the few bad apples to not get through.  This is true for residency, for aid status, for other things.  

It's not that the U is trying to scam students for more tuition revenue.  If it wanted to do that, believe me, there are better ways to get more money from more people.  So, so many ways.  *rubs hands together, then remembers herself and stops*

It is true that U-M absolutely depends on tuition revenue, and more tuition revenue means U-M has more money to pursue its priorities.  So yes, it loves revenue.  But the residency policy is not designed to cheat legitimate Michigan taxpayers out of their resident tuition benefits.  It's designed to prevent anyone, ANYONE, from getting them if they don't deserve them, accompanied by an uncaring attitude about the casualties of hassle, headaches, and paperwork associated with carrying such a tight policy out.

Probably if you did a cost-benefit analysis there are policies where the time & people required to enforce them cost more than what they are worth.  The Residency business may be one of them.  Not that we should be totally lax about it, but I wonder if we could be less stringent and come out ahead regardless.  But people don't tend to think that way around here.


February 25th, 2013 at 12:31 PM ^

Is that it appears that they do not care about the students. It may be true about why they do it, but it put undue stress on us as it we had to wait a long time to change the status and it would have meant we couldn't afford to send her as we had to take out private loans since we were not approved for student loans. We provided all of our very comprehensive paper work early and the red flag was about as weak as they come (especially with house ownership and the fact she worked there for so long). The second time was just ridiculous. I know Mary Sue Coleman is great at raising money and has been positive for the university, however, I miss the days of Bollinger and wish she would focus some more on current students who she rely on in the future to donate back.

Feat of Clay

February 25th, 2013 at 11:29 AM ^

I wish he would have explained exactly what the Yellow Ribbon program IS.  It's a program where the University and the VA kick in together to cover tuition charged over and above resident tuition.  So even if you don't qualify for resident tuition, you aren't negatively affected by that (assuming your service qualifies).  


February 25th, 2013 at 12:20 PM ^

and the policy where military people stationed in Michigan, who are residents of other states can apply, or their spouses can apply, or their children (even after the tour of duty in Michigan ends) for in state tuition.

Seems to me the University has fair policies in place, but the process is still a pain in the rear.


February 25th, 2013 at 12:22 PM ^

It's sad that WDIV didn't get reaction from the university before doing the story or didn't say that the university hadn't responded to requests (if that was the case).

That said, the university should not be classifying state residents who served in the military as non-residents for tuition purposes. It happened to me when I was a student and I thought it was a fluke. In the wake of this most recent incident, I'm learning that it's also happened to many others. If its not university policy, the university needs to stop doing it.