Federal law expands scholarship for veterans studying STEM fields in Texas
By LARA KORTE | Austin American-Statesman | Published: August 27, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn visited the University of Texas in Austin on Tuesday to meet with student veterans and tout a recently expanded federal scholarship that he says will help more veterans enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
"What we wanted to do was emphasize here, particularly in Austin where companies like Dell are looking for talent, that veterans are a great investment," Cornyn said at a roundtable discussion with students, business leaders and university administrators. "The sorts of skills and life experience that they have, the kind of discipline and focus and maturity that they bring to their education, is remarkable."
The Veteran STEM Scholarship Improvement Act, which was signed by President Donald Trump this month, broadens the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship that was created in 2017. Previously, veterans had to enroll in a STEM program exceeding 128 credit hours to qualify for the $30,000 scholarship. But the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs found that only Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado have programs that exceed the 128 required credit hours. The average STEM degree in Texas requires 124 to 127 hours, meaning veterans wanting to take advantage of the scholarship would have to look elsewhere.
Under the new law, veterans now will only be required to enroll in programs with more than 120 credit hours, making Texas a stronger contender for attracting veterans to STEM degrees.
UT President Gregory L. Fenves said Tuesday that the new bill will increase the number of UT programs eligible for the scholarship from three to 25.
Across Texas, it will open access to more than 580 degrees, Cornyn said.
"If you think about our military, it's not only the best men and women and the best trained, it's also the best equipped, and a lot of that has to do with technology," Cornyn said. "And there's no better place in Texas to do that than here in Austin."
Under the Hazlewood Act, Texas already provides public state university tuition for veterans who are honorably discharged, but the veterans must have enlisted in the military while residing in Texas. A 2016 lawsuit challenged Hazlewood's residency requirements, but the Texas law was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The federal government does provide education benefits for service members and veterans under the GI Bill, but the stipend only covers up to 36 months of education. The Edith Nourse Rogers scholarship provides an additional nine months of coverage — something that could be particularly helpful for STEM degrees, which can often take longer than a typical degree.
The expansion opens up options for veterans like Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Wells, who is active duty in the U.S. Air Force Reserve studying neuroscience and cell molecular biology at UT. Wells said he is hoping to go to medical school and needs to take certain classes that would not be covered by the federal GI Bill.
"Had I not had this bill, I would have had to take out a loan to take those additional classes out of my own pocket," Wells said. "It allows me a lot more freedom."
The STEM scholarship expansion plays particularly well into UT's partnership with the Army Futures Command, the program that was launched last year with the purpose of modernizing the military. In May, UT announced it would spend $50 million over the next few years to collaborate with the Austin-based command, including the construction of a robotics research center.
"We're working with the Army Futures Command on robotics and navigation, but ultimately problem-solving," Fenves said. "And who understands problem-solving better than veterans?"