Not Your Grandpa’s GI Bill
What the newest generation of the GI Bill is doing to help student veterans
The next generation of the GI Bill is here. Officially it is called the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. It’s designed to offer today’s veterans the same educational opportunities afforded to veterans after World War II, when a $500-a-year stipend was enough to get an education just about anywhere in the United States. While the original GI Bill is often praised for helping create “the greatest generation,” there is little disagreement about the fact that it has failed to keep pace with the rising cost of education over the years. The new law takes a big leap over that gap, more than doubling benefits for many veterans, from $40,000 to $90,000, according to calculations by the American Legion.
The new GI Bill will pay 100 percent of tuition costs for veterans who’ve served three years since 9/11. The benefits slide for less time served and top out equal to the highest in-state tuition for the most expensive public university in the state. Veterans will be able to transfer their benefits to spouses and children, and they will have 15 years instead of 10 years before the benefits expire. The bill is expected to cost more than $62 billion dollars over the next 10 years, depending on how many veterans exercise their options and where they choose to go to school. The VA will make upfront payments directly to schools.
“This bill properly provides a modern and fair educational benefit to address the needs of those who answered the call of duty to our country – those who moved toward the sound of the guns – often at great sacrifice,” said Senator Jim Webb (D–Va.). Webb introduced the bill on his first day in office, 18 months before the President signed it this past summer.
The bill goes into effect in August 2009. Between now and then, career colleges will be doing their best to get a piece of the pie. Terry Howell, Managing Editor of the Education Channel at Military.com, broke down the benefits, compared them to the older Montgomery GI Bill, and found that the older version may be a better match for students in vo-tech, online and graduate programs. He urges veterans who are eligible for both to analyze their needs closely, because if they choose the post-9/11 version, they can’t go back. (Future veterans won’t have a choice.)
In addition, there may be changes coming that specifically impact online and career schools. As it is, the bill does not cover online students and students who attend traditional colleges equally. Capella University, a fully online school, has more than 23,000 students, and 16 percent of them are affiliated with the military. Vice Chairman of the school, Michael Offerman, sounded off on the difference in an online blog hosted by the school.
“The bill contains a provision that prohibits veterans attending an online program from receiving that portion of their GI benefits that helps cover housing costs. That means that two student veterans living on the same cul-de-sac may receive different levels of GI benefits simply because one drives to a campus and the other studies online,” Offerman said. The average housing stipend is $1,000 a month.
There is also a technical discrepancy bill floating out there that would disqualify career colleges from the Yellow Ribbon Program, which offers dollar-for-dollar matching for tuition costs that exceed the GI Bill. Critics complain that the Yellow Ribbon Program should not be used to help businesses turn a profit, but that argument doesn’t help the thousands of veterans who choose more expensive for-profit institutions.
But cost hasn’t been the sole factor for veterans using their GI Bill benefits. The Chronicle of Higher Education analyzed where veterans were spending their college benefits and found the top three schools were private. Head and shoulders above everyone is University of Phoenix with more than 17,000 veterans. A distant second is American InterContinental University with approximately 3,600 students on the GI Bill. All together, however, community colleges and traditional four-year public schools still get the majority of students. Career colleges are working for their share, catering to veterans with counseling programs, discounted tuition and scholarships. They also have the technical programs that expand on the training many veterans get in the military. With billions of dollars in tuition at stake, the competition for veterans will pick up. In fact, it has already started.
The entire state of Ohio jumped in immediately. This fall, Governor Ted Strickland signed an executive order that allows all veterans, their spouses and children to attend school at in-state tuition rates. Under the new GI Bill, that’s a free education, and that’s tough for anyone to beat.