By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 1, 2009 – Servicemembers and veterans who enroll in the new Post-9/11 GI Bill will be able to attend some of the country’s most prestigious – and high-cost –universities, thanks to a new program that’s gaining momentum in academic circles.
Keith Wilson, director of education service for the Veterans Benefits Administration, reported growing interest in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“We’re getting a lot of activity in that area,” he said. “There are a lot of schools that have expressed interest in participating.”
Participating colleges and universities enter into an agreement with VA to fund tuition expenses above the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate. That rate, the maximum the Post-9/11 GI Bill can pay by law, varies from state to state.
Under the Yellow Ribbon Program, the school waives or offsets up to 50 percent of those higher costs, and VA will match that same amount.
If, for example, the tuition bill at a participating university is $20,000 and the Post-9/11 GI Bill can pay only $15,000, the university and VA will split the $5,000 difference, explained Tammy Duckworth, who was confirmed last week as VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs.
Duckworth’s alma mater, Washington’s George Washington University, became the latest institution to sign on to the program this week. GW’s commitment provides for 360 veteran students to benefit during the 2009-2010 academic year, which university officials expect to cover all eligible undergraduate and graduate students.
Under the agreement, qualified servicemembers and veterans attending GW as undergraduates will receive free tuition, and those attending as graduate students will receive a significantly discounted rate.
In announcing the university’s participation, GW President Steven Knapp called the school’s estimated $2.5 million investment in the program during the upcoming school year a way of giving back.
“This is a significant investment in those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf,” he said. “We as a nation owe our veterans a debt of gratitude, and this commitment will enable veterans who attend GW to have the kind of educational opportunity the original GI Bill envisioned.”
Other schools large and small have signed on or are considering the program.
At Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., officials said they couldn’t say no to the initiative. “It’s really exciting for us, because it’s an opportunity for us to serve veterans who have served our country,” public relations director Karrie Heartlein said. “As you know, veterans deserve the best our country has to offer, and that includes the opportunity to attend the college of their choice. The opportunity for them to attend Knox College is very exciting.”
La Roche College in McCandless, Pa., also joined the program. “We’re honored to play a role in helping our veterans reach their education and career goals,” said Hope Schiffgens, director of the school’s Office of Graduate Studies and Adult Education. “This is a time in our nation’s history when education and retraining is vitally important, especially to this group of men and women who have given so much to us.”
Jerry Jackson, dean of enrollment management at Union College in Barbourville, Ky., said his school also looks forward to working with veterans through the Yellow Ribbon Program. “We’re eager to get this program started and to make sure our veterans know they’re welcome as students at Union,” he said. “We’re proud to be able to help cover the cost of a college education for people who have served our country.”
"I am so pleased that Centenary College will be able to provide this benefit to the fine men and women who have served our country," echoed Barbara-Jayne Lewthwaite, acting president of Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J. "It is an honor to be able to reward these individuals for their dedication. Additionally, we look forward to benefiting from their global experiences in the classroom based on their military service."
In announcing his school’s participation, Mari Ditzler, president of Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill., said he looks forward to the opportunity “to serve those who have served our country.”
“The residential liberal arts experience at colleges like Monmouth has been described as uniquely American,” he said. “We are pleased that the Yellow Ribbon Program will enable our veterans to experience this special approach to learning and living.”
“We are excited to be a part of the Yellow Ribbon Program and to support our nation’s veterans,” agreed Joel Bauman, vice president of enrollment services at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. “This program allows us to offer educational opportunities to those who have made tremendous sacrifices, and this is one way we can give back and thank them for their service.”
In Pittsburgh, Seton Hill University’s vice president for enrollment services, Barbara Hinkle, called the program a win-win situation. "We're very excited about the possibilities -- both for our current students whose families may qualify, but also for future students as they come back from being deployed or their family members who are here," she said.
Wilson said he expects more schools to join their ranks as Yellow Ribbon Program participants.
“We just started soliciting applications about two weeks ago,” he said. “We’re processing them as they come in, and we’re getting them coming in every day.”
VA began accepting applications for the Post-9/11 GI Bill today. The new benefit takes effect Aug. 1. It is among several VA-sponsored educational benefits available to servicemembers and veterans.