On the one hand, a private school should be able to offer a discount to whoever they want. Even offering a military spouse discount at all is an extremely generous thing for any business or school to do. On the other hand, is it OK for them to use it as what some say is a discrimination weapon?
Put yourself in the shoes of Army spouse Janay. The admissions office told you that you’re about to be accepted into an online degree program with a great reputation. You can’t use the MyCAA scholarship for this, but that’s OK because this school offers an extremely generous military spouse discount. All you have to do is send in the documents showing that you are married to a service member and it’s yours.
Except that it’s not. While most other spouses, regardless of any detail like how long they’ve been married or how long their service member has been in, can access the discount no problem -- you can't. You can go to the school, but you have to pay full price.
Why? Because you’re a same-sex military spouse, and this school only gives their discount to people who are married to someone of the opposite sex.
That’s the rule at Liberty University, a private Christian university in Leesburg, Virginia. The school doesn’t require spouses to be married to someone of the opposite sex to enroll, but they do require spouses to meet their definition of marriage to use the discount, according to their website.
“Any scholarship, voucher, grant, benefit, or other assistance, funded by or facilitated at the discretion of Liberty University, that is made available to spouses of military service members or veterans due to their status as such, will only be available to ‘spouses’ as defined by Liberty University as a husband or wife of a service member who together are in state-sanctioned marriage and are natural-born members of the opposite sex,” it says.
Janay said that makes her feel like they will accept her, but only to get her money.
“Do you see my concern now? I know they're a private, Christian college and they are allowed to make their own rules, but you will accept me to ‘get my money,’ but deny me a discount due to me being married to the same sex?” she said. “Liberty's response has actually hurt my feelings a little bit. We are all equal no matter what and after speaking with a representative from Liberty I don't feel as if we are all equal. I kind of feel like an outsider. … How can they accept me into the college, but deny me of the discount for military spouses? That was my major concern.”
The school gives all military students and almost all spouses the same per-credit-hour rate required by military tuition assistance rules, regardless of whether or not they are using DoD-funding for their degree. That means that instead of paying $590 per credit hour, a part time graduate student using the discount only pays $275.
As far as we are aware, Liberty is the only institution or company that offers a conditional military spouse discount. They did not respond to our requests for comment. The school identifies same-sex spouses by requiring all enrollees provide them with a copy of both the service member and the spouse’s drivers licenses.
Officials with the American Military Partners Association said the rule is “outrageous.”
"This is absolutely outrageous. What kind of university thinks it's ok to exclude a military spouse from the support they need just because they happen to be gay or lesbian?” said Ashley Broadway, the organization’s president who was initially denied entrance into the Fort Bragg Officer Spouse’s Club in 2012 because she was gay. “Do they somehow think gay and lesbian service members and their families sacrifice any less than their heterosexual counterparts and are less deserving of this discount? Shame, shame, shame on Liberty University!"
Still, others have noted that because Liberty University is a private institution and its discount is not federally mandated, it can do what it wants on this issue. To expect a private Christian university renowned for its conservative beliefs to accept gay students is a little silly, they said. Janay said she didn’t know about their rules before she applied.
What do you think? Should military spouse discounts be all or nothing? Or should schools and companies be able to give them only to people with whom they agree?