The New G.I. Bill

I have spent years being more than a little frustrated with the costs of higher education.  Never once, though, did I take a few moments to consider the plight of those with a more challenging situation than my own.  Since the new G.I. Bill has passed, I have decided to take a look at what it means for veterans today, and how their quests for higher education make my own pale in comparison.

The new G.I. Bill comes into effect August 1, 2009.  Its expansion of benefits (both in terms of who is eligible and in the amount of money available to veterans) should significantly help veterans seeking degrees or vocational training.  It applies to veterans serving after September 11, 2001, with at least 90 days of continuous active service or 30 days and a discharge with a service-connected disability.  Depending on length of service, the bill covers 40-100% of tuition at public universities.  Also available are a housing subsidy and funds to cover expenses like textbooks and supplies.  With longer durations of service, the benefits can be transferred to a spouse or child.

While these benefits are helping veterans pay for school, getting admitted and succeeding there is another question.  Because many veterans are coming back to the admission process with less than stellar high school grades and old SAT scores, schools are adjusting their thinking.  In some cases, it is a conscious decision on the part of admissions offices to take into account the leadership skills and experience that comes with military service.  For other admissions officers, it is a direct connection the applicant has made.  One veteran, profiled in a New York Times article, was afraid that waiting through another admission cycle would push him off track.  He made an appointment with an admissions officer, using his experiences in Iraq to make a connection and get help with the process of getting into a classroom.  Some veterans are finding it difficult to break into private schools (where the G.I. Bill will subsidize the tuition up to the cost of a local public university) where there is a traditionally lower population of veterans.

Once they have made it to the classroom, many veterans need some help adjusting to a civilian/academic environment.  Struggling with post-combat stress, physical injuries, and the adjustment from a highly regimented schedule to a very loose schedule, veterans are turning to student veteran organizations to support each other.  Some schools have gone so far as to implement pilot programs that permit veterans to take their first years’ courses in an all-veteran class.  The classes cover a range of subjects, including a fall course entitled “Introduction to College Life.”  The courses promote a more team centered approach to learning, rather than the very individual culture present in most college courses.  Many campuses have also begun offering counseling services tailored specifically to veteran’s needs, focusing on dealing with severe combat stress, difficulties related to service-related disabilities, and other issues.

Despite these challenges, veterans are heading back to school.  They have what the director of Borough of Manhattan Community College called, “las ganas.  They have that very strong will to want to succeed.”  While I’ve always considered myself motivated, I certainly have never faced these sorts of challenges.  The new G.I. Bill should help to offset some of them, though its focus is primarily on the financial needs of veteran-students.

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Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 8:23 am Comments Off on The New G.I. Bill

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