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Sunday, December 15, 2019

Campus

Tuition assistance suspension involves more than money


mikehateberg-1-SARA SAMORA

Hateberg applies for financial aid at the Veterans Service Office. Hateberg had to go through his savings to pay for his tuition. He is currently in the Army ROTC program at UH. | Sara Samora/The Cougar

On Monday morning, Veterans Services Director Celina Dugas received two emails from a couple of service members who are also UH students.

These service members had seen a Facebook post that if anybody had been adversely affected by the tuition assistance suspension, they should contact her. They said they were in “dire need of assistance.”

After spending two hours researching the students’ background, Dugas discovered they were not in dire need as they claimed they were. One was eligible for VA education benefits (such as the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill), while the other was eligible for the Hazlewood Act, a state benefit for service members who left the service on an honorable discharge and enlisted in Texas.

However, it doesn’t mean that the suspension of tuition assistance does not affect other service members. History senior Mike Hateberg said he had to go through his savings to pay for school, money he says he earned through working with the Army.

“I’ve been strung along by the school, constantly hearing, ‘Oh yeah, it’s going to be in before the semester starts, don’t worry about it. Don’t pay for your classes out of pocket,’’ Hateberg said.

Hateberg has applied for financial aid and will apply to receive state tuition assistance. The latter, however, is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“At this point, the University has done everything they can,” Dugas said. “I don’t know about the timeline that predates me being here, but what I do know is that we did everything that we possibly can and everything that we need to do to make sure that we get it signed.”

Since Jan. 23, Dugas and UH Financial Bursar Andy Startz have been emailing the Office of the Secretary of Defense, checking the status of the Memorandum of Understanding between the school and the Department of Defense. The MOU is an agreement to institute the principles of excellence for veterans, service members, spouses and the rest of their families.

“I love this school. I want this school to succeed. I want this school to lead from the front.”

— History senior Mike Hateberg

However, this agreement affects more than those using tuition assistance.

While the main UH campus awaits confirmation, satellite campuses such as UH-Downtown, Clear Lake and Victoria have already been approved since July or September of last year.

“I only found out about it after the tuition assistance people sent an email saying, ‘Your school has been suspended,’ and that was at the end of November,” Hateberg said.

While the Registrar’s office processes VA education benefits, the Financial Aid office processes Hazlewood and the Bursar’s office handles TA.

“(The Bursar’s office) initiated that process back in December, and that’s where it is right now,” Startz said. “It has been signed, and it has been submitted to the (Department of Defense).”

Startz said he knows this is important to the students and is doing everything he can to ensure they are kept in communication and getting some answers.

“We are following up with the military, because this is something we want to get corrected,” Startz said.

In addition, Startz said he did not receive the MOU back in December, and is “working diligently on trying to get it signed and fixed so the students won’t have any problems.”

It is unknown who was in charge of the MOU prior to Startz taking over.

At printing time, Dugas had barely received a reply from OSD. A checklist was sent requesting additional information. There was no answer on whether service members will receive an extension.

“I love this school,” Hateberg said. “I want this school to succeed. I want this school to lead from the front.”

If any service members utilizing tuition assistance are in need of help, contact Melissa Villarreal at [email protected].

[email protected]

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