Ex-soldier seeks change in how UNC treats veterans
RALEIGH (AP) — A veteran of the war in Iraq who says she was denied in-state tuition when she applied to a school in the University of North Carolina system wants its leaders to change the way student veterans are handled.
Hayleigh Perez on Thursday delivered a petition containing more than 145,000 signatures to the UNC Board of Governors in Chapel Hill.
“It is my hope today for this petition to show the UNC school system that American citizens, 145,000-plus, stand behind their student veterans,” Perez said.
Perez, who is now enrolled at Methodist University in Fayetteville, met privately with UNC system chief of staff Kevin Fitzgerald, who met her at the door to take in the petitions. She also said veterans across the country have endured similar problems.
“”No one should be met with the malice and unprofessional treatment that I encountered with the UNC school system,” Perez said.
Perez, 26, deployed to Iraq for 14 months with the 36th Area Support Medical Company, which took care of prisoners and coalition forces at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. While in Iraq, she said, she kept her apartment in Fayetteville and came back to it when her deployment ended.
Perez fell in love with another soldier, a medic for the 82nd Airborne. They married in 2008 and bought a house in Hoke County. In 2009, the Army sent Perez’ husband to Texas, on a recruiting assignment, and then she got orders to go to there as well.
When her assignment ended, Perez left the military and remained in Texas with her husband. She had a daughter and stayed home to raise her.
As her husband’s assignment neared its end last year, Perez said the couple asked the Army to send him back to Fort Bragg, which they considered home. Last fall, as soon as they knew they would be coming back to North Carolina, Perez applied to colleges that had the courses she would need to get her master’s degree and become a physician assistant.
She said she sent the same application materials to each school, and was accepted to both UNC-Pembroke and Fayetteville State University, both part of the UNC system. But while FSU recognized her as a state resident for tuition purposes, UNC-Pembroke did not.
Perez needed courses that were offered at UNC Pembroke, including one that was not offered that semester at FSU.
A lengthy section of North Carolina’s general statutes describes who can be considered an in-state resident for the purpose of tuition. It says that active-duty military members and those in the N.C. National Guard should be treated as in-state residents, and it makes provisions for dependents of active-duty military members.
Joni Worthington, vice president of communications for the UNC System, could not say why one school in the system would consider Perez a state resident and another would not. But she said that Perez’ appeal went before a state panel, whose members found that the law had been properly applied in her case.
Worthington acknowledged the inconsistency within the system and said administrators are working on a new approach to consolidate residency determination for all 16 UNC campuses.