Raeford, N.C. — An Iraq War veteran who was denied in-state tuition when she applied to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke is taking the issue to court.
Hayleigh Perez, 26, who spent 14 months in Iraq, had hoped to use her GI Bill, which only pays for in-state tuition, to attend the university to get a master's degree, but she says she was told she did not qualify as a state resident because she moved to Texas with her husband, who was serving active duty there.
Even though she was staying in Texas, she and her husband continued to pay mortgage and taxes on their home in Raeford. They moved back about two years later.
Perez says she applied to both UNC-Pembroke and Fayetteville State University and was granted in-state tuition at one, but not the other. She believes the inconsistencies within the University of North Carolina System are unjust and discriminatory.
Last week, she delivered more than 145,000 signatures to an online petition pushing for the UNC Board of Governors to change the way it handles such cases.
On Thursday, she filed a federal lawsuit.
Perez, who is now enrolled at Methodist University in Fayetteville, says veterans across the country have endured similar problems.
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.