Article, "Government, Colleges Work to Cater to Veterans Under New GI Bill"

September 24, 2008 | Financing Your Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education


Today’s News
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Government, Colleges Work to Cater to Veterans Under New GI Bill


Washington — With less than a year remaining until the new GI Bill goes into effect, the federal government is rushing to execute the measure while educating veterans about changes in their tuition benefits.

Congress gave the Department of Veterans Affairs only 13 months to prepare for the new requirements of the bill, which the president signed into law this summer. That deadline has the government scrambling to deal with a series of changes in the bill in a far shorter time frame than the 30 months it had after the bill’s last update, in 1985.

“Our biggest challenge is implementation,” said Lynn Nelson, deputy education director for the department, at a conference sponsored by the Career College Association here on Tuesday. “Our existing information-technology system was designed in the 70s.”

The time crunch, coupled with the department’s technological limitations, has driven officials to consider outsourcing the processing of new GI Bill benefits, an approach that is unpopular with veterans groups and some members of Congress. A Veterans’ Affairs panel in the U.S. House of Representatives has already held one hearing on the outsourcing plan, and will hold a second hearing on the topic today.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Affairs Department is urging students enrolled in certificate-granting programs to remain in the current tuition-benefits program because they are ineligible for the expanded benefits. Congress had debated extending the benefits to certificate seekers but chose not to because it was too expensive.

Terry Howell, managing editor of Military.com, said it is important to convey that fact to veterans.

“We have veterans currently who are thinking about dropping out of school for the next year to wait for the post-9/11 bill because they think it’s going to get better,” said Mr. Howell. “But it may not be that way for them.”

The department is also encouraging new recruits to pay the $1,200 contribution to be eligible for the earlier GI Bill’s benefits if they might consider pursuing a certificate program.

At the same time, some for-profit institutions are providing veterans with increased incentives to enroll. DeVry University is offering a 55-percent discount on each credit hour for veterans and their spouses, said Randy Plunkett, DeVry’s national director of military affairs, at the conference. Colorado Technical University, which also offers tuition incentives to veterans, has created a department with 200 full-time employees who work solely to aid veterans from recruitment to graduation, said Jim Hendrickson, vice president for military education.

Those efforts could help for-profit institutions attract an even larger share of the veterans market than it already has (/The Chronicle, / July 25). Still, a survey of career colleges released at Tuesday’s event suggests that for-profit institutions could be doing even more. The survey, conducted by Military.com, a membership organization of veterans that informs them about their benefits, found that fewer than a third of for-profit institutions offer military-specific recruitment programs.

“We’ve had a big piece of this pie for a long time,” said Mr. Plunkett. “It behooves us to make our institutions as veteran-, and military-, and military-family-friendly as possible.