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Seton Hill to offer veterans free tuition

| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 11:39 a.m.

Paul Woods' four years in the Navy might translate into free tuition at Seton Hill University.

And that development couldn't come soon enough for the Salem man.

"I'm incurring mass amounts of loans," said Woods, 27, a freshman computer science major. "Anything they can do to help ... offset that, I think it's great. I think a lot of this came up because veterans are having a hard time adapting -- coming out and there are no jobs."

Seton Hill officials announced Monday that veterans and their eligible dependents will receive free tuition at the Greensburg university this fall through the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program, part of the post-9/11 GI Bill.

While the new GI Bill will pay up to the highest in-state tuition at any public institution, students would be left to pay the difference if they attend a private institution or are pursuing a more costly graduate degree.

Colleges and universities can voluntarily participate in the Yellow Ribbon program by waiving up to half the tuition cost beyond what the GI Bill pays. Then, the Department of Veterans Affairs will match what the school is paying.

"We think this is a wonderful opportunity to honor people who have served in the military for our country," said Barbara Hinkle, vice president for enrollment services and registrar at Seton Hill.

Both full-time undergraduate and graduate students are eligible. Freshmen who enroll in the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine program at Seton Hill, which opens this fall, also can receive the benefit.

Hinkle said Seton Hill can accept up to 100 students in the Yellow Ribbon program.

"I don't know that we'll have that many students, but wouldn't it be great if we did?" Hinkle said.

Currently, 11 Seton Hill students receive Veterans Affairs benefits.

Seton Hill officials are waiting for the final regulations from the government, including how much will be paid under the GI Bill and how much Seton Hill will pay.

"We said, 'Whatever the amount is, we're in,' " Hinkle said, adding that an early estimate is that the university would cover about $6,000 per veteran per year.

The full tuition benefit, which takes effect this fall, is available to veterans who served on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001, for at least 36 months as well as veterans who were honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability and who served 30 continuous days after Sept. 10, 2001. Certain dependents also may be eligible.

Woods, a Greater Latrobe High School graduate, said that when he left the Navy in November 2007, he could not find a job. So he enrolled at Seton Hill last fall.

While he must find out if he is eligible for the new program, he said he is receiving benefits under the current GI Bill.

Still, he's had to take out about $6,000 in loans per semester to cover his tuition.

"The more money I can get to go to school, the better off I'm going to be in the long run," he said.

Robert Morris University was the first in the region to announce participation in the program.

"We've received, since our Feb. 12 announcement, about 200 inquiries, which we're very pleased with," said Robert Morris spokesman Jonathan Potts. "It's not unusual for us to get a dozen or more a day sometimes."

St. Vincent College, Westmoreland County's other private college, has applied to participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, spokesman Don Orlando said yesterday.

"We intend to move forward with it as soon as we receive final approval," Orlando said.

Those interested in learning more about the Yellow Ribbon program at Seton Hill should contact Connie Beckel, associate registrar, at 724-838-4219 or by e-mail at beckel@setonhill.edu.

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