War Veterans Find GI Bill Fails College Tuition Test


The federal program that once covered nearly the entire cost of a veteran's college expenses continues to fall further behind the soaring price of higher educationThe federal program that once covered nearly the entire cost of a veteran's college expenses continues to fall further behind the soaring price of higher education
by Stephen Manning 

Left, Marc Edgerly will owe $50,000 in student loans.

FAIRFAX, Va. — Marc Edgerly and his father, Carl, both joined the Army as young men, served during wartime and eventually decided that college, not a full-time military career, was what they wanted.

But the costs they shouldered for college are dramatically different.

The GI Bill covered all of Carl Edgerly's college expenses in the mid-1970s. His son, however, expects that even with the maximum $1,075 in monthly GI Bill benefits, he will be saddled with $50,000 in student loans when he graduates from George Mason University…


"The total amount of the GI Bill comes nowhere close to what I actually need for college," said Edgerly, 26, who is in his second year at the school outside Washington, D.C. "After five years of college, it is not going to work."

The federal program that once covered nearly the entire cost of a veteran's college expenses continues to fall further behind the soaring price of higher education. Despite several attempts by Congress to boost benefits in past decades, the gap has grown so large that many veterans are forced to take out sizable student loans.

The current maximum GI Bill amount for college for a veteran who served on active duty is roughly $38,700. For many students, that is not nearly enough to pay for tuition, room, board and books.

And only four years of school are covered, leaving veterans on their own if they take longer to graduate.

The average cost of one year's tuition, room and board at four-year public institutions in 2006-07 was $12,796, according to the College Board. For private schools, the one-year cost was $30,367.

Tuition and fees at all schools have risen 35 percent in the past five years, while the highest GI Bill monthly payout has increased only 20 percent since 2002.

Congress has boosted the benefit several times since its inception — the last a $9 billion, 10-year increase passed in 2001 that even then was criticized as too small to keep up with soaring costs. 

Some lawmakers want to try again. Legislation in the House and Senate would make National Guard and Reserve troops — who are relied on heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan — eligible for the same GI Bill payments as active-duty personnel.

Currently, Guard members and reservists receive a much lower educational benefit.

A bill by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a former Marine and Navy secretary, would pay the entire tuition, room and board of veterans and provide them with a monthly stipend of $1,000.

The expanded benefit would be available to all members of the military who served after Sept. 11, 2001.

A Webb spokeswoman said there is no estimate yet of how much the expanded benefit would cost.

Webb touted the bill Wednesday in the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, saying it would help boost recruiting, ease the transition of returning soldiers and raise the quality of life for veterans.

The legislation is backed by several veterans groups, such as the American Legion.


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