June 12, 2013
By Raquel Enero
Of all the benefits afforded to service members upon leaving the armed forces, assistance with tuition thanks to the GI Bill is among the most helpful. The benefit gives separating service members the chance to head back to school and earn a degree, certification or licenses, all of which can help them as they look for employment opportunities in the civilian realm. Despite its advantages, there is still some room for improvement. Chiefly, some troops may not be able to get in-state tuition due to problems with their residency, and a pair of bills making their way through Congress aim to close that loophole. However, any changes are being met with resistance from public college and universities, Military Times reports.
Advocacy groups applaud the changes
Although two bills have been proposed, one in particular has shown the most promise in getting signed into law. The GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act, which requires public schools to offer in-state prices to out-of-state veterans, was approved by a Senate panel in May. Proponents of the legislation say that it's an important move because many veterans are often left covering the difference between in and out of state tuition, which can sometimes be quite hefty. As a result, they have to turn to financial assistance programs which can build up debt they don't need. This is especially important as the number of veterans is likely to increase.
"This legislation comes at a critical time when more service members than average will be leaving active service due to the drawdown of our forces and the withdrawal from Afghanistan," Military Officers Association of America's Robert Norton told Military Times.
Schools need convincing
While veterans advocates are in support of the bills, public schools are not yet convinced. In testimony before the Senate, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities raised concerns about whether states would be able to make the necessary changes quickly enough.
Vets increasingly using the benefits
Any changes come at a time when the number of service members making use of the GI Bill is on the rise. According to figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 500,000 people took advantage of the benefits in 2012, which marked a 13 percent increase compared to the previous year.