Raeford, N.C. — An Army veteran who lives in Raeford says she was denied in-state tuition at the University of Pembroke, even though she owns her home.
Hayleigh Perez, 26, who spent 14 months in Iraq, had hoped to use her GI Bill to 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 had been assigned to a military base there.
Beginning last year, the GI Bill program quit paying out-of-state rates at public colleges and universities.
Even though she was staying in Texas, she and her husband continued to pay mortgage and taxes on their home. They moved back about two years later.
She says she applied to two state schools and was granted in-state tuition at one, but not at Pembroke.
"My home is here in North Carolina," Perez said. "My voter registration, my voting history – those are the things that make me a North Carolinian. It was very rough."
Perez says she has moved on and is now attending Methodist University in Fayetteville.
"I just don't think that any veteran should have to be treated the way I was treated," she said. ""That's why I'm doing this. It has nothing to do with me."
She has since started an online petition and has received more than 140,000 signatures.
UNC-Pembroke has said that Perez's case was handled professionally, deliberately and objectively.
A spokeswoman for the University of North Carolina system says she cannot comment about specifics related to an applicant's case but says if Perez were to reapply now that her husband is stationed in North Carolina, she would be considered for in-state tuition.
The spokeswoman also reiterated UNC's strong commitment to North Carolina's military community.