A special tuition waiver to Oregon National Guard members and reservists kicks in this week at Oregon universities, but few are taking advantage of the benefit at Portland State.
The Oregon University System estimated that 300 students would enroll in the program this term, costing the universities a combined $250,000 in waived revenue. Of the seven universities, PSU was expected to have one of the largest numbers of students using the benefit, said Dave McDonald, director of enrollment and student services at OUS.
The program waives tuition not covered by National Guard Education benefits for National Guard members or reservist in active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. It’s known to the higher education world as Voyager Tuition Assistance.
Unfortunately, program administrators say, virtually nobody else knows about it.
“It hasn’t really been developed,” said Chris Goodrich, coordinator of Veterans’ Services at PSU. “I don’t know how much students know about the program.”
He said though PSU typically enrolls about 500 veterans each term, he has fielded just five inquiries about Voyager.
The disconnect may be because the fee remission happens not at the one-stop shopping of Veteran’s Services, which administers federal and state veterans assistance programs, but through each campus’ financial aid office.
As the go-to guy for other veterans’ assistance programs, Goodrich said he’s frustrated about how little information about Voyager he’s had to give. He has a one-page fact sheet from OUS, but said there’s room for each university to interpret eligibility rules.
“[The fact sheet] is all there is,” Goodrich said. “At this point, [a student’s] interpretation is as valid as mine.”
With no university-wide plan, he doesn’t know how to advise vets.
“It makes me feel very inadequate when my veterans come to me and ask me about a program I know nothing about,” he said.
Administering the program through the financial aid office means it competes for attention in a famously busy department.
The financial aid web site does not list information about Voyager.
He calls the financial aid officers “horribly overworked.”
Goodrich said he’d like to devote more time to publicizing Voyager, but he’s swamped, too. When he’s not advising veterans, Goodrich does general student advising in the Information and Academic Support Center. “We’re up to our eyeballs in advising students here,” he said. “If we weren’t, it’s the first thing I’d do.”
“It’s way too early for us to tell how many reservists and members of the Guard are receiving tuition benefits,” McDonald said. “We don’t have an accurate sense and we won’t for quite some time.”
Governor Ted Kulongoski unveiled the program last winter as one of many miscellaneous benefits, including free admission to state parks, life insurance and tax credits, in a legislative message of gratitude to the nearly 5,000 guardsmen and reservists deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001.
Voyager benefits do not expire. Guard and Reserve members can start using the four-year benefit at any time.