GI Bill may be updated to help veterans meet rising college costs
Current funding levels don't always cover college tuition.
In Iraq and Afghanistan they've battled insurgents and built schools. But when it comes to enrolling in school themselves, many of today's veterans are facing an unexpected fight – the fight to stay afloat amid mounting college costs.Skip to next paragraph
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It's time for a revamped GI Bill, say veterans' organizations and scores of US legislators. Like their World War II counterparts, the men and women making sacrifices in the "war on terror" should be rewarded with benefits that cover the full cost of education, they say. As a bonus to society, they tout the prospect of long-term economic gains and a steadier stream of good recruits.
It's not clear yet whether those arguments will pull more dollars out of a tightly cinched federal purse. But the issue resonates as part of a wider conversation in American society about the need to increase access to higher education. Because low-income recruits make up much of today's military, a more robust GI Bill "would do a measurable amount ... to expand equality of opportunity in a period of American history when equality of opportunity is contracting," says Theda Skocpol, a government and sociology professor at Harvard. "It's a lot more important than ... whether you're going to force wealthy universities to [spend] a higher proportion of their endowments," she says, because it affects average people.
A coalition of veterans' groups called for dramatically higher education benefits this week in publicizing their annual budget and policy recommendations. They noted that in 2005-06, the average cost of a four-year college (tuition, fees, and room and board) topped $17,000 a year. Yet full-time GI benefits covered barely more than half those expenses. (Injured veterans can qualify for full expenses through a different set of benefits.)
On Capitol Hill, support is building for new World War II-style benefits – either in this year's budget or through legislation such as that proposed by Sen. James Webb (D) of Virginia and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska, both Vietnam veterans. Known as the Post 9-11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, it would apply to those who have served two years of active duty, with part of that service since Sept. 11, 2001. Full benefits would cover the equivalent of a four-year education at the highest-priced public institution in a given state. The law would also provide a monthly living stipend of up to $1,000 and give veterans 15 years, instead of 10, to use their benefits.