The New Veterans G.I Bill and Educational Opportunity

The recent Chronicle of Higher Education presents an informative article on the “21st Century G.I. Bill”–Senator Jim Webb’s legislation designed to offer educational opportunities to this nation’s veterans.

Read the article here.

There are some surprising trends among returning veterans making use of the bill’s provisions. Among them, veterans seems to be enrolling in community colleges and for-profit educational institutions at higher rates with their funds than at “traditional,” four-year universities and colleges.

One of the reasons may be cost–as the current legislation only provides about three-quarters of the cost of an average college or university. Community Colleges (though severely more expensive than they were for the WWII and “baby boom” generations) are more affordable than four-year colleges. The benefit meets most of the veteran’s educational cost need.

But the for-profit educational institution is NOT less expensive. In fact, places like this charge higher fees for a degree that is worth far less in the market place. None of these institutions is accredited in the same way as most four-year and two-tear colleges are. Most do, however, offer convenience. Places like these pioneered the online course almost a decade ago.

This is something of a contrast to the original G.I. Bill, a piece of legislation that allowed for returning WWII veterans to attended college for free. As the article mentions, there is some debate as to the impact of this original legislation. Some historians celebrate the bill as the cornerstone of the postwar economic boom, which facilitated to movement of a large share of Americans into the middle class. Other say it “privileged the privileged.”

As a historical topic, I’ve been very interested in the G.I Bill and other benefits given to the so-called “greatest generation,” in addition to those given to the baby boom generation. While the original bill may not have been as transformative as some historians give it credit for, it was one part of a collection of public funding efforts that benefited (mostly white) WWII generation members. Their children–the baby boomers–got an equally staggering amount of public funds dedicated to their upbringing, everything from new roads and bridges, to new cities and water and electrical works, to new schools, and a bunch of subsidies to afford those.

Either way, we are awarding our current veterans (and even rank and file current citizens) in a reduced manner when it comes to public funds for their development and economic progress. For those trying to recreate the economic good times of the second-half of the twentieth century (at least when they were good), this is significant. That “boom” was anything but free of government handouts.

If you are a Gen-Xer, the next time anybody over the age of 55 tells you you got it easy growing up when you did, politely give them an elbow, and walk away. Just avoid major organs; their recovery costs a lot of tax dollars too.

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