PEMBROKE — The chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, responding to a national story about a military veteran being denied in-state tuition at the institution, said state law was followed and UNCP “prides itself on being a military-friendly institution.”
“Currently we serve more than 800 military personnel annually,” Kyle R. Carter said in the statement posted on UNCP’s website. “We strive to provide services tailored to their needs … .”
The statement follows an allegation from Army Sgt. Hayleigh Perez, 26, that the school unfairly denied her in-state tuition. She has started a petition on change.org titled “UNC Board of Governors: Stop Discriminating Against Student Veterans” that has received nearly 132,000 signatures and gained national attention after Perez aired her grievance with the university on Fox News.
“I believe that the UNC System took advantage of my situation and discriminated against me as a veteran to pocket $4,603.50; the difference not covered by my Post 9/11 GI Bill,” the petition reads.
According to the petition, Perez and her husband, Jose, purchased a home in Raeford in 2006 after their tours in Iraq ended. The couple relocated to Texas on military assignment in 2009, but continued to pay taxes on their North Carolina home. When Jose Perez was stationed at Fort Bragg in April, Perez, who had been honorably discharged, began applying to schools to attain a master’s degree.
According to the petition, Perez was accepted to UNCP and Fayetteville State University, both branches of the UNC System, but while the Fayetteville State determined she was an in-state resident, UNCP did not. Perez has said he will attend a private school, one she did not identify.
“… I cannot fully use the Post 9/11-GI Bill I earned from my four years of service at UNCP to pay for my tuition because the bill only covers in-state tuition,” the petition reads. “I immediately appealed the ruling but was met with hostility and aggression.”
“We are disappointed to read news reports of misleading statements attributed to Ms. Perez that tarnish UNC Pembroke’s excellent reputation and relationship with our military,” Carter said in the statement. “While I cannot speak to Ms. Perez’s case specifically, I assure the public her case was handled professionally, deliberately and objectively.”
According to Fox News, the appeal process required Perez to appear before a 15-member panel at UNCP. She told the news network that she learned the denial “was based on the fact she had not paid income tax in North Carolina in the years she was in Iraq and Texas.”
While he acknowledged in the statement that Fayetteville State University accepted Perez as an in-state resident, Carter stood behind the final decision of the committee.
“… UNC Pembroke is required to evaluate residency petitions using a prescribed state process,” Carter said in the statement. “The UNCP Residency Appeals Committee compares information provided by the student against North Carolina residency statutes. UNC Pembroke followed those procedures and, as reported in the press, determined Ms. Perez to be a non-resident.”
Perez told Fox News that she, with the help of the Students Veterans Advocacy group, a national nonprofit, plans to sue both the school and the federal government if the decision “is not reversed.”
“We need and deserve the Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits we have rightfully earned through blood, sweat, and often tears,” the petition reads.
“Ms. Perez’s case has become an emotional issue for those who care about our military personnel,” Carter said in the statement. “UNC Pembroke cares, too. I fully understand the emotion, but ask for your understanding; UNC Pembroke must follow state statutes in determining residency.”