On Tuesday, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1735 limiting some of the provisions of the Hazlewood Program, a state-sponsored free tuition program for some veterans and their dependents.
The move comes in reaction to ballooning costs and a court ruling that threatened to expand the free tuition program exponentially.
Since 1923 the Hazlewood Program has offered Texas veterans up to 150 free credit hours at state universities. In 2009, it was expanded to allow veterans to transfer up to 120 of those credit hours to their dependents. For veterans who use the Federal GI Bill, they become eligible for the Hazlewood program after their GI Bill runs out, or they are no longer eligible. Schools must provide the free education without being reimbursed by the state.
The cost of this program has skyrocketed from nearly $25 million in 2009, to $169 million in 2014. If left unchanged the program is forecasted to cost $379 million in 2019. Schools say they can no longer shoulder the burden of the ever-increasing costs and must raise tuition for other students to provide the program. A review of participants shows that 4 times more dependents use the program than actual veterans.
The original law stipulated that only veterans who were Texas residents at the time of their enlistment and who returned to Texas after leaving the military service were eligible for the program. However, in January of this year a court ruling brought on by a lawsuit filed by a University of Houston law student, found the residency requirement to be unconstitutional. Texas legislators feared the ruling could potentially allow thousands of veterans to move to Texas in search of a free education.
In an attempt to ensure long-term viability of the program Senate Bill 1735 will:
- do away with the current residency restriction and expand eligibility to veterans who have lived in Texas for at least 8 years
- require six years of service for a veteran to be eligible to pass hours along to their children
- implement a 15-year time limit on use of the exemption from the veteran’s end of time in service
- require dependents to maintain a 2.5 GPA and complete 24 credit hours per academic year
- no longer allow dependents to use the program for post-Bachelor's degree programs
Current recipients of the Hazlewood Program will have their eligibility grandfathered in.
The bill now heads to the Texas House of Representatives for further review.