Colorado State University has a deal for recent veterans: Serve your country, get your education free. Completely, absolutely, 100 percent free.
Dozens of colleges across the state, and hundreds across the country, are participating in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Yellow Ribbon program, which helps recent veterans and their families with tuition costs.
But CSU is one of a handful of institutions whose participation goes way beyond the call of duty. The University of Northern Colorado is another.
Starting this fall, CSU will pay full tuition and fees, as well as provide help with housing and books, to qualifying veterans or their children.
In announcing CSU’s 100 percent contribution, university president Tony Frank said the school is "committed to ensuring CSU remains a top military-friendly university."
That commitment means CSU will pay 100 percent of resident and nonresident undergraduate tuition, all university fees, a $4,300 housing allowance each semester and $1,000 a year toward books. The offer does not include graduate-school tuition.
So, how many veterans and their families are likely to take CSU up on its invitation?
"I have no idea whatsoever," said Glen Vance, who certifies students and prospective students as eligible for veterans benefits at CSU. "So far, we have around 30 students that will be entitled, but they are already enrolled."
CSU has about 700 graduate and undergraduate students who are veterans. That population has grown about 10 percent a semester in recent years. CSU has about 25,000 graduate and undergraduate students.
The University of Northern Colorado, the only other Colorado college offering 100 percent tuition coverage, expects more than 300 students in the Yellow Ribbon program this fall.
The Yellow Ribbon program was created as part of the Post- 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 and began providing tuition help in 2009.
The website for the GI Bill — gibill.va.gov — lists 34 Colorado public and private institutions, from Adams State College in Alamosa to Westwood College, that offer some level of Yellow Ribbon tuition break.
Although CSU’s offer came weeks after it announced hefty tuition increases for other students — up to 20 percent for resident undergraduates — Vance said he doesn’t expect that those students will begrudge veterans their tuition-free education.
"I really don’t think there will be a backlash because this is going to military families that have made sacrifices," he said.
Colleges, universities, technical colleges and other institutions of higher education can elect to participate in the Yellow Ribbon program and can decide how many students to admit as well as how much to contribute toward student expenses. The VA then matches up to 50 percent of that contribution and pays the college directly.
The benefit also extends to children of veterans.
Debra McCarthy is a junior anthropology student at CSU. Her dad is retiring this summer after 30 years in the Air Force, and he has transferred his GI Bill eligibility to his daughter.
That means that in the fall, instead of paying $11,000 out of pocket for her out-of-state tuition at CSU as they did last semester, McCarthy’s parents expect to pay zero.
"It’s such a huge weight off their shoulders," McCarthy said. "Especially now that they’re looking for their first home and trying to figure out where to settle down" to start their post-retirement life.