Marisa Colon attends Virginia Commonwealth University through the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, which covers the cost of tuition and fees for spouses and children of military service members who were killed, missing in action, taken prisoner, or 90% or more disabled as a result of their military service.
For her, Colon said, the program has been nothing short of life-changing.
“Every time I see that ‘paid in full’ message on my financial statement, I am reminded that I am allowed this opportunity because of the sacrifices that my husband made during his time in the military, and that he continues to make because of the pain he endures daily,” said Colon, a senior majoring in health, physical education and exercise science. “I am thankful that Virginia takes care of veterans and their families.”
Colon is one of nearly 1,200 students attending VCU this academic year through the program, which is run by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services in partnership with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and Virginia’s public colleges and universities. The program helps survivors and dependents of qualified veterans and service members achieve their educational goals.
VCU provides more tuition and fee waivers than any other institution in Virginia; nearly 25% of all waivers are provided by VCU.
The program has grown significantly at VCU in recent years. The projected 2023-24 class of VMSDEP students is roughly six times larger than the 2018-19 class of students.
That growth, however, has come with a cost for VCU. Since fiscal year 2017, the cost of the waivers has increased by more than $13.8 million. VCU anticipates that the cost will exceed $16 million for the current fiscal year and grow to $18 million in the following year.
VCU is requesting financial support from the state to help shoulder the cost of providing the waivers. Currently, VCU covers the costs in their entirety, drawing an increasing share of the university’s tuition revenue.
Stephen Ross, director of Military Student Services at VCU, said the program has been a “difference-maker for our VCU military-affiliated community.”
“Many of these students would not have been able to attend VCU without this program or would have had to consider incurring significant debt,” Ross said. “This program is a perfect example of how the state of Virginia and VCU both work to support the military community.”
VCU is designated as a Military Friendly School, earning a silver award for being in the top 20% of institutions, based on factors including retention, graduation, job placement, loan default rates and more. Additionally, VCU’s military-friendly approach goes beyond educating students: It also includes trauma care training for military health care professionals; training educators at more than 150 universities to better serve military students; research to improve the lives of service members and veterans; and relationships with local businesses and Fortune 500 companies that lead to jobs and internships, networking and special events.
If adequate funding for the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program at VCU is approved by the state, it would enable the university to continue supporting the educational goals of the spouses and children of military service members and veterans who reside in Virginia. Funding would allow the university to alleviate its use of tuition and fees to support the program and reinvest them in the university’s academic mission and help address recent inflationary costs increases. Without additional funding, VCU will continue to use tuition and fee funds to support fund the waivers as it does currently.
For more information on the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, including eligibility requirement and a full explanation of benefits, visit here.