Several student government members will be visiting with Texas Legislators in order to discuss a handful of campus-wide issues including parking and miscellaneous fee increases.
One of the more prominent items that SGA will be discussing, however, is the support for state funding of Hazlewood and Hazlewood Legacy.
Currently, universities must set aside funds in order to pay the tuition and fees for veterans under The Hazlewood Act, and their dependents, under The Hazlewood Legacy Act. Both of these numbers have continued to grow each year, forcing universities to raise the tuition of non-military students.
Carlos Hernandez, vice president for finance and operations, explained the process by saying if ten friends went out to dinner, and one friend didn’t have any money on them to pay for their meal, the other nine would have to pitch in to help out.
SGA Senator Phill Lund said he supports government funding of the two Hazlewood programs in order to help the institution save money and to ensure the best refund possible for veterans.
“Financially, universities are struggling to cover the costs of Hazlewood when they could use that money to improve and expand the campus,” Lund said. “So in the long run it is more beneficial because it gives that veteran the best possible education that he or she has rightfully earned.”
SGA members are also going to the TSUS Board of Regents. Although the board can’t directly change legislation, Chief of Staff Robert Ferguson says that he is confident that they have an indirect hand in doing so.
“The board [members] have the ear of the governor because they are appointed by him,” Ferguson said. “If there was a group of people that I would want on our side in the capital, it would be them.”
From 2008 to 2014, the total cost of Hazlewood exemptions for Sam Houston State University has risen from $400,000 million to $5.9 million, much of which is due to the enactment of the Hazlewood Legacy program in 2009.
That number could potentially increase dramatically in the future due to a recent Texas court ruling.
According to The Texas Tribune, Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr. ruled that universities must grant free tuition benefits to any veteran of Texas residency, regardless of where they lived when they enlisted in the military.
According to Hernandez, this not only applies to current students but former students as well. For instance, if an SHSU alum, who was denied Hazlewood benefits at the time of their schooling contacted the university and requested a reimbursement, the university would be obligated to refund the student’s tuition and fees.
Because of this ruling, the university has to factor potential financial refunds into their budget, which is nearly impossible, according to Hernandez.
“We don’t know how many additional students might show up and say ‘hey, I’m eligible. I wasn’t before, but I’m eligible now,’” he said. “So this number could go up by one student or it could go up by 1,000 students, we have no way of knowing.”
Although Hernandez didn’t have a specific number of students impacted by these two programs, he confirmed it is several hundred, which university spokeswoman Julia May said is roughly five percent.
SHSU aluma Lise Jorgensen was one of those students, and said that without the Hazlewood Legacy Act, her college experience would have been met with financial struggles.
“I went from needing to pay $5,000 to $6,000 to only needing to pay $300 to $400,” Jorgensen said. “It was a huge relief for me and my family. If the Hazlewood Act wasn’t enacted…it would have required me to work in order to pay for my schooling, which would have taken too much time away from my studies and lowered my overall GPA. I think having the Hazlewood [act] played a huge part in my being able to graduate summa cum laude.”