The following post is an OpEd (opinion editorial) offered by my friend Barry Brodsky. Barry is the Veterans Upward Bound program director at the University of Massachusetts’ Boston Campus. As a product of the VUB program (Humboldt Sate University) I can attest to the value and importance of this program. Please take a minute to read why Barry and I think the Post-9/11 GI Bill should be expanded to cover college prep programs.
THE NEW GI BILL SHOULD INCLUDE VETERANS UPWARD BOUND
By Barry Brodsky
While the new Post-911 GI Bill presents veterans who have served since 911 a tremendous opportunity to pursue their educational goals, there is a weakness in the bill that will result in some veterans entering college too soon, failing, and then probably not returning for years if ever.
As the Director of the Veterans Upward Bound program at U.Mass-Boston, I see 120 veterans a year go through the program in their quest for a better education. Veterans Upward Bound is a TRIO program funded through the Department of Education. Our mission is to provide classes, tutoring, counseling, and assistance with college and financial aid applications to eligible veterans who seek to attend a post-secondary educational program. Federal guidelines for eligibility include (1) at least 180 days active duty; (2) better than a Dishonorable discharge, and (3) either low income (150% of poverty level) or first generation college student.
Previous versions of the GI Bill allowed a student, if he or she elected to do so, to collect benefits while attending a Veterans Upward Bound program. There are currently 48 VUB’s in the US. The Post 911 GI Bill, however, will not pay benefits unless the veteran is attending a degree-granting program. As a ‘Pre-Collegiate’ program granting no college credits, Veterans Upward Bound does not qualify.
This exclusion puts the returning veteran in a bind. We have talked to many veterans recently returned from Iraq/Afghanistan who want to go to college. Many admit they don’t know if they’re “ready” (both academically and emotionally). However, the generous stipend allowance included with the new GI Bill is often too strong an enticement for a veteran to resist. In Boston, for example, the stipend is currently $2307 per month. A veteran attending a state school, or a Yellow Ribbon school, would therefore pay no tuition, no fees, get $500 per semester for books, and receive a monthly stipend of $2307 (at 100% benefit rate). Should the veteran opt for a semester at Veterans Upward Bound, while they bear no expense for tuition, fees, or books, their monetary reimbursement under the VUB program consists of a one time payment of a $160 stipend. For a veteran concerned about finances, this is a no-brainer. And unfortunately, some veterans will sign up for a state or community college, be unprepared, and flunk out.
Last semester, approximately 90,000 veterans nationally signed up for college under the new GI Bill. It is my belief that many of these veterans who want to attend college under the new GI Bill would take advantage of a pre-collegiate program if they could collect their GI Bill stipend for that semester. The impact on veterans retention rate would be improved, and the VA would actually save some money in the process. Here’s how:
Joe (or Jane) returns home and wants to use the new GI Bill. He/she enrolls at a State or Community College for three classes and collects the monthly stipend. However, Joe/Jane is not ready for college and flunks out. What is the impact?
- Joe/Jane may be afraid to return to school for fear they may “owe” the VA the money paid during the failed semester. This is a real fear (though there is no firm policy on this yet) – many Vietnam veterans underwent this same experience. A few years ago a Vietnam vet came to our program who dropped out of U.Mass in 1971 and had not stepped foot in a college classroom since. Now out of educational benefits, he had to piece together loans and work study jobs to continue his education.
- The VA will have spent approximately $10,300 (average stipend being $1200/month, average semester tuition being $5000 plus $500 for books) on the above student for the semester, only to have the student drop out.
- Had the student attended a VUB program, he/she would have collected the stipend but there would be no book or tuition/fee payment. The total outlay for the VA for that semester would have been approximately $4800. The student, in all likelihood, would have been made ready for college. And even if this student realized that college was not for him/her, again, the VA would have spent significantly less funds for that student (the VA would save approximately $5500 for this one student)
I therefore urge a measure to allow a veteran to use a semester’s benefits under the Post 911 GI Bill to attend a Veterans Upward Bound program. There is currently a bill pending in the US Senate (S3447) that proposes other positive changes to the GI Bill. Either S3447 could be amended to include Veterans Upward Bound in the GI Bill, or a separate bill could be introduced to specifically amend the GI Bill to include VUB. The country should have more than 48 VUB programs for our veterans, but that’s a separate issue that will be addressed in the near future. For now, let’s give returning veterans with access to a VUB program the opportunity to take advantage of it without being forced to delay their ability to collect the new GI Bill.
About the Author:
Barry Brodsky has worked at Veterans Upward Bound at U.Mass-Boston since 2002, and has been the program’s Director since 2004. Brodsky is a published and an award winning writer whose stage plays have been performed around the country. His play “The Boys of Winter” (co-writer), a Vietnam memory play, was nominated for “Best New Play in Boston” in 2008 by the Independent Reviewers of New England. He also teaches writing classes at Boston University Film School, Emerson College, and Lesley University. He earned a BA from U.Mass-Boston and an MFA from Brandeis University. He served in the Army from 1967-70.