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GI Bill . . . No Sure Bet

Everyone agrees that going to college is an important goal for all our students. It's also a fact that finding the money to pay for college is a big stumbling block for many.

So is the U.S. military's heavily advertised promise to provide young people with money for college a solution to the dilemma of high college costs?

The Montgomery GI Bill, passed in 1985, promises money for college, but it is not comparable to the GI Bill of old. Many people hear the words "GI Bill" and imagine a guarantee of a college education for any member of the military service, like the GI Bill of the 1940's and 50's.

The "money for college" pitch helps the recruiters but hides a very different picture. The Pentagon has actually been making money off recruits under the Montgomery GI program.

Other Issues:

Alternatives to the Military
Child Soldiers
Dealing with the Draft
JROTC
Recruitment and Enlistment

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Military money for college

To qualify for GI Bill benefits, recruits must first make a non-refundable contribution of $1200. Service members actually paid out more in these contributions than they received in return in benefits between 1985 and 1993 (service people paid in $1.84 billion and received only $1.12 billion in benefits). The reason is that although 71% of recruits had enrolled in the plan, only 35% of those enrolled had obtained funding.

The Pentagon has been making money because the benefits are hard to get. The rules concerning eligibility to use the benefits are more restrictive than other previous military educational plans. For example, if the recruit leaves the military with less than an honorable discharge (as many do), or does not end up attending college for some reason, he or she is ineligible and does not even get the $1200 back. There are other conditions that can even disqualify service members who have honorable discharges.

By itself, the Montgomery GI bill won't put you through school. Recruiting ads that promise "up to $30,000" for college are particularly deceptive. That level of benefits is not available for all; it is based on obtaining not only the Montgomery GI Bill benefits but also Army/Navy College Funds. Only a select few, mostly those who take the less desirable combat-related positions, are eligible for the maximum figure.

Through the Montgomery GI Bill, the maximum benefit over four years of college is only about half of that often-cited $30,000 figure.

Commuter students at a two-year community college with an annual tuition under $4,000 may find that the Montgomery GI Bill benefits cover their college tuition costs. But resident students and students at four-year colleges and universities are likely to find the benefit is only a fraction of the annual cost.

With the cost of only one year at a private college approaching $30,000, it is clear that this military benefit is no guarantee of a government-financed education.

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*Photo copyright Ron Sherman 06/29/99
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