WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Ryan Meigs, who served overseas in the Marines, now has a new mission – to raise awareness about federal changes making it difficult for some veterans, like himself, to go to college.
"We're very goal-oriented people," said Meigs, referring to veterans. "You have an objective in front of you and you do whatever it takes to meet that objective."
His current objective, enroll at Cape Fear Community College, may seem easy enough, but he faces a hurdle. Meigs never became a legal North Carolina resident while stationed at Camp Lejeune.
To earn residency for tuition purposes, a person must have lived in North Carolina for at least one calendar year and show an intent to maintain permanent legal residence. This is often done by getting a driver's license, registering to vote, or paying taxes in the state.
Residency requirements became problematic for some servicemen and women in 2011 when changes to the G.I. Bill caused the federal government to stop paying out-of-state tuition for veterans.
"So what do they do? They'll either go to a state that's solved the problem, or they will sit out of school," said Bob Philpott, veterans affairs coordinator at Cape Fear Community College. "These are the kind of people we really want to have in North Carolina. They're hardworking, smart, dedicated, patriotic, you know, this is what we build the future of this state on."
Philpott explained that out-of-state tuition is more than $2,000 higher than the in-state rate, and most veterans don't have the money to pay the difference.
"I feel terrible," he said. "You know, these are good people and they feel, and I feel, they've been made a promise."
When Philpott explained the situation to Meigs, the veteran contacted several lawmakers, included Sen. Thom Goolsby (R), who had already introduced a bill to give veterans in-state status at public college and universities in the state.
Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) co-sponsored The Veterans' Education Equity Act of 2013, which would address the tuition issue at the federal level. The bill is still pending.
With Goolsby's bill stuck in committee, he says members of the armed services need to take steps to help themselves.
"If you really are looking for and planning to go to our schools, I think it just makes sense to become a North Carolina citizen. That solves the problem. Period."
But Meigs, who keeps tabs as other states pass laws solving the problem, believes North Carolina needs to follow suit.
"We serve the country as a whole," Meigs said. "We didn't serve any single state, so wherever we decide to go to school should be our choice."
Meigs said he has since applied for a driver's license and registered to vote in North Carolina.
A year from now, after earning in-state residency, Meigs plans to enroll in the Marine Technology Program at CFCC.