BURLESON, Texas -- Mike Rhoten can’t help but feel proud.
His son, Levi, is getting ready to graduate from Burleson High School.
They're both excited for what comes next.
Levi plans to attend the University of North Texas in the fall.
“I just think it's going to be completely different from what I'm used to," Levi said. "A fun experience."
UNT estimates its annual cost is about $23,000 for a State of Texas resident living on campus.
The whole family was bracing to make sacrifices.
“It was only a few years ago that I realized it was going to be pretty hard on my parents to put in the extra time to make the money for me, and I would have to have a job, too,” Levi said.
But then, the Rhoten family realized something else.
Because Mike Rhoten served in the Marines, the State of Texas could offer him, his wife, or his children free tuition at any public college or university in the state.
It’s part of what's called the Hazlewood Act. It’s designed for veterans, but a little-known option allows you to pass it on to your spouse or kids.
“I was pretty excited about it," Mike said. "It's a big relief. It cuts the cost in half -- very close to being half. It was great.”
Hazlewood waives tuition and most fees, up to 150 credit hours. It doesn’t cover housing, books, or supplies.
The number of students using it is skyrocketing.
“The dollar value of our benefit has exploded, both because we have more veterans, but also we're seeing an explosion in dependent benefits that we didn't see before,” said Karen Krause, director of financial aid at UT Arlington.
Nearly half the students using Hazlewood there are veteran's children.
Veterans or their dependents can apply for Hazlewood if they served at 181 days (or about six months) in the military, not counting training.
Veterans must have enlisted in Texas, have lived in Texas when they entered the service, or have been a Texas resident at the time. They must have been honorably discharged.
You can only use the Hazlewood benefits if you have already exhausted your federal education benefits, like the G.I. bill.
In Rhoten’s case, his G.I. bill expired. In other cases, G.I. benefits could be used for undergraduate education and Hazlewood could be used for graduate programs.
Your children can qualify to use the benefits as long as they are Texas residents and are no older than 25 on the first day of the semester.
Students must also maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0 for undergraduates, and 3.0 for graduates.
Roughly 39,000 Texas students used Hazlewood in 2014, the latest year statistics are available, according to a legislative budget report. It’s a big increase from previous years, and amounts to $169.1 million in waived tuition and fees in 2014.
“I'm excited for [Levi]," Mike said. "I'm excited for him to take this next step."
Levi can take that next step, thanks to the State of Texas, and his dad.
To find out more about the Hazlewood Act, click here.