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It's called the Post 9/11 GI Bill and it's the first update to veterans education benefits since 1944. The old GI bill didn’t cover the full cost of going to school. It didn’t provide enough for housing, fees and books. The new benefits will allow every eligible veteran or a member of their family to attend a public college or university for free for four years. At UMass Boston that's led to a 20 percent increase in applications, says Kathleen Teehan, head of enrollment.
"We have seen an uptick in applications at this point but the info is relatively recently out to veterans so many are just starting to become aware of what they have to do to qualify for the benefits," she said.
Other UMass campuses are seeing a 12 percent increase. That's not because the schools are marketing the new GI bill, but word is getting out through the veterans administration. Because the amount of the benefit is based on the cost of going to state schools, it’s no surprise state schools are seeing the most interest from veterans.
"I’ve waited for this bill for 20 years, clicking my heels," said Augusto St. Silva, director of Veterans Affairs at UMass Boston. "Can’t wait for Sept. 1 when people will be rolling in expecting that tuition will be paid for and their housing stipend in hand." Silva said his phone had not stopped ringing with inquiries about the program.
Most of the vets at UMass who will benefit from the Post 9/11 GI bill are students who were already enrolled. Suzanne Salter is a 26-year-old Navy veteran who is studying to be a nurse. For her, the best part of the new benefits is the $1,000 allowance for books.
Just one class can require hundreds of dollars in books. "The thousand dollars really isn’t enough, but anything on top of the nothing we were getting — anything is better than that," Salter said, shopping in the bookstore for what she needs for the fall semester.
The new GI bill also covers tuition and fees for spouses or dependents. That means Shannon Sandlin, who is starting the nursing program at UMass Boston this fall, goes for free. Her husband is on active duty in the Navy. "It’s definitely easier to have help when paying for school than to have to do it on your own," Sandlin said. "I did undergrad on my own and it’s not fun."
Almost 50 private colleges are also offering scholarships to veterans, in addition to the GI bill benefits. Tufts University is giving a $5,000 scholarship that will be matched by the Veterans Administration. Boston University is offering 20 veterans a $2,600 scholarship each semester, which will also be matched. But even with these scholarships, the new benefit won’t cover full tuition and fees at most private schools, which can run more than $45,000 a year.
Still, some vets can make it work at private colleges
Army veteran Shaun Finn is a part time student getting a masters in business at Boston University. He also works for the university, which covers the cost of his tuition. But the GI bill will save him money on the taxes he pays on his classes, which will allow him to finish his degree faster.
"It was going to take me approximately five years to finish my MBA at night," Finn said. "But now I can double up classes and I should be done in the spring of 2011, which will be three and a half years. So I cut down about a year and a half in the length of time that I’m going to be going."
Military veterans represent a relatively small group of students at private colleges and universities in Massachusetts. For that reason, most schools are not doing any special outreach or recognition of veterans studying with help from the new GI bill.
This program aired on August 17, 2009.
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