New GI Bill Brings New Challenges: With Expanded Education Benefits for War Veterans Taking Effect in August, Public Institutions Anticipate Having to Cater to Veterans' Unique Needs

By Lum, Lydia | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, July 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

New GI Bill Brings New Challenges: With Expanded Education Benefits for War Veterans Taking Effect in August, Public Institutions Anticipate Having to Cater to Veterans' Unique Needs


Lum, Lydia, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Tess Banko felt more scared when she began college in 2004 than in her three years as a Marine. She'd quickly learned what the military expected of her and developed routines. By comparison, college life was unpredictable and unnerving. Each professor had different expectations that sometimes changed over the course of a semester. And the lives of her younger classmates differed dramatically from that of Banko, who was widowed by her mid-20s and sustained a career-ending injury in the Marines.

Yet she and other college-going veterans believe their higher education difficulties are worth the long-term gain. They hope that veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, however intimidated they might feel, will join them in classrooms as improved financial incentives become available.

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"Even though I've never been in combat, we've been through some of the same things," says Banko, referring to troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She's majoring in social work at San Diego State University.

Beginning Aug. 1, many Afghanistan and Iraq veterans become eligible for expanded benefits under the post-Sept. 11 GI Bill. Veterans meeting government criteria essentially qualify for education at a four-year public university at no cost. Some can transfer benefits to spouses and children. The legislation is the most recent update of the original GI Bill of 1944, which promised troops returning from World War II enough money for a bachelor's degree plus living expenses. But over the years, rising tuition outpaced the amount of benefits, forcing veterans to take out loans.

With expanded education benefits poised to take effect, public universities are not alone in the spotlight. Community colleges have historically been--and remain--a common destination for veterans because of the availability of courses required for university admissions.

And, the national "Yellow Ribbon" campaign features many private universities granting some veterans heavily discounted rates by partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs in shouldering the remaining costs. Clark Atlanta University, for example, is offering an annual subsidy of $2,500 for up to 25 veterans, officials say.

In 2008, more than 336,000 veterans and active-duty personnel, 100,000 reservists and National Guardsmen and 80,000 survivors used education benefits, according to the VA. In May, VA officials estimated that based on the volume of claims for benefits, the expanded GI Bill could result in a possible 25 percent increase in the number of U.S. college students connected to the armed forces. This could also infuse untold numbers of minorities into higher education. For instance, Blacks and Hispanics each made up 13 percent of the country's more than 167,000 non-prior-service recruits in fiscal year 2006, according to the Department of Defense.

Untapped Resources

Anticipating this overall enrollment spike--coupled with the growing presence of veterans in college in general--some schools around the country have already initiated veterans-specific services.

San Diego State now offers apartment-style housing for veterans. The University of California, Berkeley offers a for-credit, veterans-only course so that they can hone study skills that sometimes have not been tapped in many years.

Educators say the academic challenges are perhaps the toughest, most daunting hurdle for veterans. Most have not been full-time students since high school.

George Mason University student Antelmo De Leon describes feeling "overwhelmed" last fall while managing a four-class, 12-credit-hour courseload for the first time since 1986, when he left community college to start a 20-year naval career. …

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