Raeford, N.C. — An Iraq War veteran who says she was denied in-state tuition at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke delivered more than 145,000 signatures to an online petition to the UNC Board of Governors Thursday in an effort to bring change for veterans seeking in-state tuition.
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.
"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," she said, adding that hundreds of veterans across the country have faced similar problems."No one should be met with the malice and unprofessional treatment that I encountered with the UNC school system."
Perez, who is now enrolled at Methodist University in Fayetteville, also met privately with the UNC System's chief of staff, Kevin Fitzgerald, who met her at the door to take in the petitions.
Joni Worthington, vice president of communications for the UNC System, said UNC-Pembroke applied Perez's residency status appropriately and followed federal and state laws in reviewing her appeal.
"While I cannot speak to Ms. Perez's case specifically, I assure the public her case was handed professionally, deliberately and objectively," UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Kyle Carter said in an Oct. 16, 2012, letter to university staff.
Worthington acknowledged the inconsistency within the system and said administrators are working on a new approach to consolidate residency determination for all 16 campuses within the UNC System.