President Obama has signed the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvement Act or the GI Bill 2.0 into law. Changes on the GI Bill include getting rid of the state-by-state tuition and fee rates. However complex factors such as the annual cap that applies only to private schools and the recent housing stipend that limits students based on the number of classes they can take each term adds to the negative aspects of the law.
On August 1, 2011, the GI Bill 2.0 was implemented and it aims to help thousands of current and former troops and some of their family members to earn their college degrees.
The first of the two changes includes full in-state tuition for eligible students, reimbursement of key entrance exams and more money for disabled veterans. The second part of the changes which will start on October 1 will include paying of monthly living stipend to online students, addition of vocational programs on the list of covered courses as well as making active-duty members and their spouses eligible for the monthly book allowance.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill had served over 500,000 veterans in its two years of existence. Despite the changes, not all comes as good news to service members and some of them will feel that they are being tricked. Meaning, the approved GI Bill 2.0 is cost-neutral meaning for every dollar spent to help someone, a dollar is taken from another.
The Bill was signed into law last January however its effective date is delayed which falls on the bad side of the neutral on the funding perspective. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office places a price tag on the changes made and according to them the final bill will save the government $734 million for the next 10 years or more.
Many active-duty service members mostly officers are already feeling the downward fall. The first problem was seen and felt by thousands of active-duty service members when full tuition fee was allowed to be reimbursed even if the member had not served long enough to earn the full benefits of the bill.
On the other hand, the August 1 changes can make everyone a winner. The newly reformed bill is much easier for students to understand and easier to run for the Veterans Affairs Department.
The process which was simplified will provide a worldwide reimbursement limit for private and foreign schools while it promises to pay the full in-state tuition of students enrolled in public colleges and universities. At the same time, this will also allow the VA to process benefits far easier thus making the process more transparent for students.
GI Bill 2.0 is made simpler while its benefits are being expanded having a simple fee structure, simplified administration that makes the benefit uniform nationwide. Complaints on the bill are expected to arise come December with the stoppage of education benefits between terms. Ending the so called “interval payments” will affect almost 260,000 people per year and will lose an average of $865 each. End of interval payments does not only apply to the Post-9/11 GI Bill but to all veterans education programs as well. This move will save $2 billion over the next decade.
At presents officials from the VA is trying to get word to students regarding the stoppage of between – term payments however, complaints are still expected when the change is fully felt especially during the holiday break between the fall and spring terms.
Eliminating the state-by-state tuition and fee caps based on the costs of the most expensive four-year public colleges or universities in a state will have great implications. Most of the changes will be good but some will have their negative effects as well.
In-state students availing the Post-9/11 GI Bill for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs will receive full tuition and fees will be paid if they have earned full benefits based on the 36 months of aggregate service since September 11, 2001 or 30 consecutive days of service if discharged with a service-connected disability.
Recent nationwide rate comes as good news for most private school students since the $17,500 is now equal to or higher than the 2010-11 fee caps in 43 states. Meaning many students will receive the same rate or maybe higher tuition and fee payments. Congress is working on softening the blow on the legislation however, there are two groups of people that can be hurt.
The first group are those students attending private schools in Arizona, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas states in which the $17,500 is lower compared to what was paid last year, individuals will be facing losses of up to $8,900 in benefits. Tuition and fee payments’ rules are the same for both bills however, the House bill will apply to anyone enrolled in a private schools as of April 1. The Senate bill which was passed on June 30 by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will protect those who are only enrolled in private schools as of January 1. Differences will be worked out prior to the passage of the final bill and until this time, it is not clear if this will also happen on August 1.
The next group that will be hurt with the changes are those students who are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to enroll in public schools and paying non-resident rates. Before these students were treated the same as those who are attending private schools with their tuition and fees being covered based on the highest fee for in-state undergraduates at a four-year public institution in the state. Now, these individuals will only get the in-state rate for the school they are enrolled.
Some veteran students are expecting to receive $17,500 just like those students enrolled in private schools however, after studying the changes made on the package VA officials announced on July1 that there is no authority to make these payments.
It is expected that some of the students will be surprised by the changes and some of them may be force to drop out of school if they will not be able to find alternate funding. Students need to look for a third-party funding, scholarship grants so as not to get into financial problems.
Many schools, both public and private are participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program. This a GI Bill option under which the VA matches dollar-for-dollar and any reduction in tuition and fees made by an institution of higher learning. Yellow Ribbon benefits can help private and public school students wherein their entire costs is not covered by the basic benefits. There are 2,466 public and private schools that have agreements with the VA for the Yellow Ribbon Program for the school year 2011-12. A list of these schools is available at the VA’s GI Bill website.
Another problem that will be facing the students that is not expected for the fall term are the delays in processing the benefits because of the new, fully automated benefits processing that was set up early this June to handle claims and payments without much trouble compared to the past.
One approach that may slow down some of the claims may come out if the Congress passes relief for private school students. These claims will need to be processed by hand because the VA’s software cannot be updated in time. To lessen the impact on this, efforts are being made to limit the delays only to private school claims from states where reimbursement limits will fall.
Processing by hand is needed to make sure that students are qualified specially if the student is attending school on whatever date the Congress decides that need for eligibility.
While everyone agrees that changes on the bill are needed, the bill comes with many trade-offs that some veterans and veteran program administrators are finding difficult to accept. Just like any legislation there are always those unintentional consequences.
Winners for the changes will include National Guard members who were not qualified under the old rules since they can now use both the AGR and title 32-time to count on their Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility. Service members who are on active duty as well as their eligible spouses will qualify for the $1000 annual book stipend. Students who are into distance learning whose classes are 100% online can now qualify for housing stipend of up to $673.50 per month for full-time enrollment.
Veterans who are looking into degrees of all levels will have the in-state tuition and fees paid by the VA 100% as long as they enroll in state operated institution of higher learning. For non-resident students, the bad news is they have to fund any tuition and fees which exceeds the school’s in-state tuition rate. Those that are looking into attending vocational, technical, certificate, on-the-job-training, and apprenticeship programs can avail the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Also, if they need to take placement exams when applying in a school like LSAT, GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT are eligible for reimbursement of exam fees. Eligible NOAA and USPHS personnel can transfer their Post-9/11 benefits to their dependents.Lastly, Voc-Rehab participants now have the option to make use of their Post-9/11 housing stipend instead of the VR&E subsistence rate.
Losers on the new GI Bill include veterans who rely on the housing stipend to cover their living expenses during school breaks will experience payment ends during the breaks. Those who are enrolled less than full-time will find their housing stipend divided to match the rate of credit hours they are taking each term. Finally, if you are enrolled in private school whose tuition exceeds the $17,500 per year you will need to find an alternative to cover for your tuition. Yellow Ribbon Program may apply and may be available to help cover additional expenses.