Preparing for College

College Opportunities for Veterans

There's a new GI Bill. Jim Michaels writes in USA Today:

HANOVER, N.H. — Through a classroom window, Samuel Crist can see the stately buildings and tree-lined sidewalks of a picture-book New England campus. Inside, Crist refers occasionally to notecards as he reads aloud his assignment in Arabic, while nine other students listen intently and his professor takes notes.

More than four years ago, Crist lay bleeding on a Fallujah street, where he had been shot in the arm and leg on the second day of one of the Iraq war's deadliest battles. Today, Crist, 24, is in his final year at Dartmouth College . . .

I can vouch for the benefits of the GI Bill. When I returned from my tours of Vietnam in 1969, I had enough educational assistance to finish my degree at Penn State. It was quite gratifying to know that the Government appreciated our military service enough to help us further our education, which resulted in many doors opening over the years that otherwise, without that college degree, wouldn't have opened.

Jim Michaels continues Sam Crist's story:

"A lot of people in my unit didn't come back," he says. "It would feel like such a waste if I came back and didn't work to my fullest potential."

Crist is one of a small but growing number of veterans studying at Dartmouth. They're a reflection of a broader effort that encourages today's veterans to enter college in much the same way the World War II-era GI Bill gave their grandparents a shot at higher education.

That effort has been led by two former Marines: Dartmouth President James Wright and Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat. The result is a new law, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, that increases education aid for veterans who have served at least 90 days after the terrorist attacks. The bill takes effect Aug. 1.

Wright spent his career emphasizing the need to expand the number of people who consider college. After reading about the Fallujah battle, he began visiting wounded troops in hospitals and talking about higher education.

"Diversity is about more than race and religion and national background," says Wright, who served in the Marines and was the first in his family to attend college. "These veterans are part of a demographic that is being missed," he says.

Wright had concluded that the existing GI Bill, which hadn't kept up with the escalating cost of higher education, was inadequate. Wright says he contacted Webb and offered his help in winning support for a new bill.

The new law, which could potentially more than double the amount covered in the current GI Bill, could open college doors to thousands of veterans, many of whom would not otherwise have considered college because of the expense.

The law provides the equivalent of in-state tuition at the highest-priced public college in the state where the veteran lives, based on undergraduate tuition and fees. There is also a monthly housing allowance and a $1,000 stipend for books and supplies . . .

. . . Crist is studying Arabic and Middle Eastern history. Recently, he learned his Arabic teacher was from Iraq and said he felt obliged to tell him he had fought there, in the event the teacher harbored strong feelings against the war.

The instructor, Hussein Kadhim, said Crist's background posed no problem. Kadhim had served time as a conscript in Saddam Hussein's military.

"I wish he told me earlier," Kadhim says. "Transitioning from the army to civilian life can be challenging."

If you are in the military, or thinking about joining, keep the new GI Bill in mind. One can never anticipate or overestimate the advantages and opportunities of higher education in one's life. Just ask Sam Crist.

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