Veterans in Higher Education

Faced with the longest running wars in our nation’s history, veterans are returning back home to rebuild their lives.  The challenges veterans face are not unlike previous generations of warriors but they are complicated with a limping economy and lack of jobs.  While much emphasis is being placed on “jobs, jobs, jobs”, veterans have an opportunity to make one of the greatest investments: Free Education under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  Not since the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 became law has the GI Bill held out a promise of a bright future to so many veterans.  Depending on eligibility, a veteran will not only have all tuition and fees paid for they will also receive a monthly living stipend based on the cost of living for that area.  For example, a full-time student in Orange County would receive a stipend of up to $2,175/month for living expenses (http://newgibill.org/calculator/).

Despite these excellent education benefits,  many government entities continue to focus on employment for veterans.  While there are some veterans who will have translatable skill-sets to the civilian world, many will need some level of “re-tooling” in order to find employment.  Focusing on employment is a noble pursuit, but it must be coupled with education if it is to be effective.  Educational benefits are one of the best incentives that recruiters have to attract young men and women into the military.  Ironically many leave the military without having a clear sense of what program they want to pursue in order to access these benefits.  Regardless of whether a veteran chooses to pursue a 4 year degree or a 2 year certificate program, education provides an excellent transitional platform and it can lead to a higher level of employability over the long run.  Furthermore education generally leads to upward social mobility and the ability to attain a higher level of income over the course of one’s life (Table 1).