Post-9/11 GI Bill Needs a Grandfather Clause

Recent changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, signed into law on January 4, 2011, represent major improvements and new opportunities to thousands of Veterans. The benefits provided by this legislation will enable and motivate many to attend college. But for one group of students, the changes leave them anxiously wondering if they can complete the degree programs they have already started.

Today, the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays all tuition and fees for active duty students. Starting August 1st, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay all in-state tuition and fees at public schools and up to $17,500 per year at private schools. Active duty students at public schools should see little or no change. However, the $17,500 annual tuition limit is significantly less than what active duty students enrolled at many private universities receive today. The changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill leave active duty students currently enrolled at private universities such as Georgetown, George Washington and Johns Hopkins doubting their ability to find the resources required to finish their education.

There was no doubt about Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits when these students applied. The students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill thoughtfully picked their college and program with spouses and supervisors a year or more ago with balanced consideration of family, finances, career timing, and the benefits that the GI Bill provided. The Post-9/11 GI Bill enabled many active duty students to attend college. Surprisingly, the changes signed last month establishing the tuition cap failed to include a grandfather clause. Now some are at risk of being unable to achieve their educational goals.

Active duty students currently enrolled at private universities who rely on the Post-9/11 GI Bill are left with a dilemma. With the tuition cap looming, these students must decide whether to take on unplanned debt through student loans, transfer to public universities delaying completion by a year or more, or withdraw altogether.

Schools and Veterans groups must reach out to find out how many are affected. In my Executive MBA class at Georgetown, for example, seven of my 54 classmates (13 percent) are serving on active duty. Each uses the Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay tuition. Almost halfway through our graduate program, each of us must decide how (or whether) to pay the estimated $29,000 in tuition and fees beyond what the GI Bill will cover in academic year 2011-2012. One classmate knows he cannot delay his education because he will be transferred back to sea duty soon after our projected graduation in 2012. Another may not be able to afford tuition and might need to withdraw mid-way through the program—a waste of the funds the government has already contributed. The benefit that originally inspired and enabled them to pursue a Georgetown MBA has become a source of anxiety.

How many active duty students attending private universities around the country face these same difficult decisions? It is not easy to tell because in the rush to pass the changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, no one asked.

Veterans groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., the American Legion, the Military Officers Association of America, and the Student Veterans of America must step forward and advocate to increase the tuition cap and grandfather current students from decreases in benefits. They should also advocate for active duty participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which allows universities to fund the amount of tuition that exceeds the GI Bill benefit with a match from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Furthermore, veterans groups should reflect on how the 2010 rush to advocate GI Bill changes—without a clear understanding or consideration of the impact on active duty personnel—appears from an active duty membership perspective.

Private universities must determine how changes will affect current and future students and carefully consider how Yellow Ribbon funding will be allocated for the next academic year. If schools get it wrong, they risk leaving Veterans unable to complete their studies. If schools get it right, they will produce proud and loyal alumni who deeply appreciate and personalize the commitment made to them.

Private universities wishing to compete for Veteran and active duty students cannot rely on rankings and reputations to sustain their competitive advantage. Universities that value the experience Veterans bring to the classroom will now compete with universities that were not previously direct competitors. For example, a student considering an Executive MBA at Georgetown is likely to look more closely at the same program at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business knowing that the latest Post-9/11 GI Bill will now fully cover Darden’s higher tuition while paying just one third of Georgetown’s.

Lastly, Congress and the President can make the most immediate and definitive impact by grandfathering enrolled active duty students. President Obama, in his State of the Union speech emphasized the competitive value of innovation and education: “To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.” Ironically, changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill take an education already firmly in the grasp of some active duty students and threaten to put it out of reach. Grandfathering active duty students will keep some of our most competitive Americans in the classroom, knowing that tomorrow they will be leading our wardrooms and boardrooms.

Commander Herb Carmen is an active duty naval aviator on the Navy staff. He is a graduate student and class representative in the Executive MBA program at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. He commanded Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 116 and was a Senior Military Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, Georgetown University or any other agency.

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26 Comments to “Post-9/11 GI Bill Needs a Grandfather Clause”

  1. Mike says:

    Let’s not forget that the VA rules often presume a 4-year degree so students pursuing JDs, MBAs, MAs, or who are finishing their undergraduate work early often leave school with debt AND unused GI Bill money. Another way to level the playing field would be to allow veterans to use remaining GI Bill money to pay-off college debt.

  2. Chris says:

    Lets not forget all of us retired service members who carefully planed our post retirement schooling around these same benefits. I would like to see the grandfather clause extended to us as well. The original 9-11 G.I. bill was heavily weighed as part of our retirement plans and these changes will have many of the same impacts on us as the active veterans.

  3. Ron Snyder says:

    Sorry, as a taxpayer and a vet (’71-74 USAF) who used the GI Bill to get my four year college degree, I do NOT feel that I should pay for advanced degrees.

    • Rod says:

      If the GI bill is not made available for advanced degrees then there is no point in offering to the Officer corps as they have already completed their undergraduate degree. Many of those officers had to pay their way through school with out any assistance from the government. Only a select few graduate from the service academies or receive significant assistance from their ROTC unit. I do not think that the spirit of the GI bill was to be restricted to the enlisted ranks. Additionally most advanced degrees are two years where the member does not use all of their eligibility. As the context of this discussion revolves around active duty personnel, I would suggest that it is to the advantage of the military regardless of rank to have highly educated personnel.

      • Alexandria says:

        I was in 1993-1999 and I had the Army College Fund. I think for those service members who already have their Bachelors degree when they join, they should be offered some type of Army College Fund, even if it is only the monthly allotment for two years or something like that. I had the $30,000…..and since I took classes while I was in I was able to get my AA in one year, my Bachelors degree in two years, then I got into a one year Masters program. At that time you paid $100 a month for one year to pay into the Army College Fund.

        I am quite sure that those who already have a Bachelors degree would consider paying into a college fund so they could pursue a Masters degree.

        I used to have a past time interest of reading about different things we as tax payers are paying for. I would rather pay for a veteran to have a Masters degree then waste millions of dollars on research about how to make a pickle crunchier and other pork barrel junk we are paying for!

  4. Clark Ward says:

    Frankly, this is hogwash. I used my GI Bill from 2003 – 2006 to get a very functional bachelor’s degree from a well thought-of public university (Georgia Southern U.). I see no reason whatever for we taxpayers to fund expensive advanced degrees at private colleges. The officers in question can do like everyone else and shoulder a little of their education costs. The budget will, for the forseeable future, be shrinking, and program funding will shrink with it. We will be lucky to maintain current benefit levels for our servicemembers and vets, much less enhance them for a lucky few who find themselves in a position to attend expensive private schools.

  5. Steve says:

    Hogwash? It’s hogwash to waste the money and not grandfather students that already started. I’ll end up dropping out of an undergrad program that the VA has already spent $45k towards because the rules changed midstream.

  6. Manolo says:

    Herb, first of all, great article! I think you did an excellent job portraying the position of active duty service members who may have to stop their education because lawmakers made a swift change in policy without truly considering the impacts or those impacted.

    While the fiscal environment is changing the country does need to take a close look at the budget and determine what programs need to be cut, modified, or supported. Currently there is an increasing rate in unemployed veterans and homeless veterans. Our country needs to determine how best to position veterans who have given so much to compete in the new job market. I would argue that it’s our country’s moral obligation to do so.

    The argument about the government paying for graduate degrees is a very week postion. Most senior civilian, government or military officers obtain at least one or more graduate degrees. To produce the nations future leaders both to protect this country and to drive economic growth it is the country’s responsibility to make sure its populace is educated. Whether to educate service members in public or private school is a separate argument. If congress wants to change the policy that is fine, but what Herb is suggesting is that the government already made a promise to a lot of veterans. Backing down half way is not just.

    The best position I have heard for why to send specifically military officers to private school isn’t so much for the education of the officer, but the benefit the service member brings by teaching his cohorts about the military. With the growing divide between the military and the civilian sector I believe this is a fundamental must. Put it this way, the chairman of the joint chief of staff, Admiral Mullen has an MBA from Harvard. I bet he left truly a lasting impression with his fellow Harvard Alum.

  7. Howard says:

    I think that reasonable people can differ as to whether the GI Bill should cover graduate degrees. Congress obviously thinks its important because the GI Bill is still available for graduate degrees after this change. This wasn’t a judgement about graduate school, it was an oversight on Congress’s part. Vets and active duty members made decisions about the best use of these benefits based on the rules Congress set. Changing the rules of the game mid-way and leaving vets in the lurch wasn’t a policy decision, it was a mistake.

  8. Damian B says:

    I am an active duty Naval Officer also attending an executive MBA program at MIT Sloan. I made the choice to attend graduate school while on a shore tour at the completion of which I will rotate back to sea duty and be unable to further my graduate education. As I already paid my way through my undergraduate education with out government assistance I can attest to the difficulty of shouldering student loans. Hover in both my case and that of the CDR above we based our decisions to further our graduate education and where we would do so on the level of support guarantied by the government. Although the issue at hand is that the rules were changed mid way through the game, a comparison of a private and public EMBA program provides some insight.
    UVA Darden tuition for an EMBA program is 120,000 for two years; MIT Sloan is 128,000 for two years. Comparing these two programs there is an 8,000$ difference, if one were to attend UVA the VA would pay 100%. If they were to attend MIT the service member would have to pay 94,000$ out of pocket.

  9. James Cantor says:

    Grandfather these students in.

    The Post 9 11 GI Bill isn’t even 3 years old yet!!

    They’re on active duty AND going to school. It would be a waste of money for them to quit. The incoming students can decide where/when/how to use their GI Bill based on the law….as long as Congress doesn’t change it for them too.

    Retired General Robert Scales, former Commandant of the Army War College thinks there’s tremendous value in active duty officers attending civilian universities.

  10. Bill S says:

    Herb, you make a solid case on an extremely important VA topic. As Damian mentioned, the government guaranteed those of us pursuing further education using the GI Bill as written, stating it will pay for 100% of our education. Taking these benefits away mid-cycle for some of us, is placing not only an unplanned (and preventable!) financial burden on us, but imposing career implications as well. Not grandfathering those of us who have already started our education is a violation of the trust we placed in the government when we started our studies. While more than likely an oversight, this wrong absolutely needs to be righted today.

  11. Tricia says:

    CDR Carmen’s analysis of the current situation is spot on, and highlights the bind that active duty students who are already using the Post 9/11 G.I. bill are being put into by the impending changes to the bill. After researching the post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, I enrolled in a graduate program based on the express agreement of the VA to fund 100% of tuition. I am now halfway through the program and am facing a more than 75% reduction in benefits. I have contacted my school about Yellow Ribbon, but at this time I am not even eligible to be placed on the Yellow Ribbon wait list because I am active duty. If veterans are able to enter into agreements with schools for Yellow Ribbon benefits, there is no reason active duty should not be allowed the same benefit. Furthermore a grandfather clause would honor the multiple year agreement originally entered into by both veterans and active duty pursuing higher education.

  12. Pat F says:

    Active-duty personnel pursuing an education using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill are not the only group affected; I’m one of a few recently-separated veterans that is attending a private art school in Philadelphia, which was seeing tuition completely covered. Now, it seems, come August 1, 2011, those of us who want to continue to get our education there will need student loans to cover at least some of our tuition, even though we’ve all completed at least a year with tuition completely covered – without the need to worry about the Yellow Ribbon benefit.

    I chose my current school based on comparing the old cap against my expected yearly tuition as per information forwarded to my by my then-prospective school. Why, then, are they essentially changing the terms of my agreement – and those of others at my school – in the midst of our education?

  13. Allen M says:

    Herb, Excellent article! I’m very thankful for all of the benefits I’ve received through the GI Bill and grateful that I was able to pass these benefits to my two children. I really think they missed the mark with passage of this law, especially for those who retired before they were able to transfer their benefits to their dependents. They got screwed and this administration could have fixed it with this law. You’re arguments hit home for me and my children especially my son who is in his junior year at New York University using my transferred 9/11 GI benefits. After spending his first two years at a local community college, he transferred to NYU, but that decision was made based solely on good faith knowing that we could now afford his attendance at this private school since all $37,866 of tuition would be paid for. With passage of this law, we’re now facing a $20000+ unexpected bill for his senior year in the fall of 2011. Had we known this, he’d be attending a local state university. Now we’re faced with taking out loans or transferring yet again for his senior year, which will almost certainly mean one more year of schooling. Grandfathering is warranted for all currently enrolled in the program. I plan on writing to my Congressman and urge others to do the same.

  14. Kyle G says:

    Does the cap include the BAH? If so that is completely unfair to people in big cities. I go to school in NYC (where i grew up). Rent is 2 and 3 times higher than much of the rest of this country.

    Overall this is pretty shitty. I am in my 3rd semester back at school at an expensive private school. I guess I may have to look at the city schools now.

  15. Thanks a lot for changing it now... says:

    There are 3 things that need to happen.

    1) Pay full BAH rates to those who attend strictly online courses (I am in an IT degree program, and that is just about the only way the higher level courses are offered). Especially if 3/4 of the degree was completed by physically attending class.

    2) Do not penalize veterans/students for not going “full time”. Sometimes it can be impossible to have a full-time class schedule as the many times classes are being offered during a particular semester.

    3) Break pay should not be discontinued. So, a student gets paid BAH rates for 4 months, and then suddenly finds themselves unable to pay the bills one month because they do not have a fulltime paycheck? Explain that one to me. It’s not so easy to be able to maintain a fulltime class schedule and work schedule and no employer is going to want to hire someone fulltime if they are going to quit in a month.

    Come on. All these intelligent government officials working on making this bill work and cannot think with common sense? STOP DOING THIS TO THE VETERANS! WE EARNED IT!

  16. Lou says:

    I began my college education using a football scholarship, when I lost that, I joined the military. They use the GI Bill as a recruiting tool. While I was active duty I used Tuition Assistance to continue my educaiton. This past spring I finished my enlistment and immediately began flight school using the benefits I earned, and as soon as I do that, its being taken away form me. I know when we all signed the dotted line we agreed that we understood that even though we were signing a legal contract that we could not break, the government could change it at any time. And I understand that we are in a recession and they are cutting costs anywhere they can. But I feel completely betrayed that they are not grandfathering those of us who are currently enrolled and using the benefits. If they turn their backs on the veterans who held up their end of the bargain, it will only perpetuate the spiral our nation is in. Either debt will continue to build or people will discontinue their education, discontinue bettering themselves, go get a job living paycheck to paycheck, continue to live in debt, and continue to be a drain on society. We, as a nation, need to refocus our efforts on ourselves, because only when we can make ourselves better will we be able to effectively help anyone else. I am just appalled by the direction we have been going, and I fear that until we doing something serious, we will continue to spiral.

    Its like a company that is losing revenue, what do they always do? They start with layoffs, they fire as many people as they can to cut costs and make their books look positive. But that never works does it. All that does is slow down the car crash. But inevitably those companies always fail. The ones who succeed and pull through the hard times are the ones who invest in themselves. The company that makes itself as valuable as possible will pull though in the end.

    Now I, and so many other veterans, through no fault of their own will be left to fend for ourselves as the government deems it more fiscally responsible to spend money elsewhere than upholding their end of the deal and paying for my school. I FEEL LIKE I WAS USED AND TOSSED AWAY AS SOON AS THEY WERE DONE WITH ME!

  17. Brandon says:

    Not only does this affect active duty soldiers in 4 year studies this cap also affects guys like me who started a technical school where they have lots of different add ons that make you more marketable to the job force. I started this school with a definate path intended and now won’t be able to complete it. I certainly hope this grandfather clause gets voted in.

  18. Connie Bingham says:

    As a Veteran that served Active Duty before 9/11 I am upset about this new GI Bill because I think that ALL VETERANS should be able to go to school free no matter when you served. I don’t think it is fair that only soldiers that served after 9/11 gets to go to school free.
    I feel if we served our country that we ALL be able to go to school free.
    Any one else agree with me?
    Connie

  19. i think its a good thing that the matter is being looked into and not ignored

  20. SSgt D says:

    The affects are just starting to hit my family from this change. As I am on active duty, I was able to transfer all of the Post-9/11 benefits to my spouse for her to attend a private law school in the area I am stationed. We carefully planned her attending this school based on what the Post-9/11 GI Bill provided. Otherwise, with the enormous student loans she would have incurred, we felt it would be a poor choice. Now, with still a year left in her studies, she will aquire these loans in order to finish. This is not what I planned on nor planned for, so I expect our not-so-distant future to be rocky. I, like others here, feel betrayed not only because I signed a one-sided contract, but I also incurred an additional service commitment. The legislators have now essentially made attending most private intitutions unappealing for active duty members and their spouses. Why they came up with in-state public tuition rate caps for private universities and the low-ball figure of $17500 a year is beyond my comprehension. I can only assume they did not have the best interests of the active duty military in mind.

    I also want to emphasize to those who are critical of those of us affected: this is NOT about wanting the most from our benefits, taxpayers funding 100% tuition or whining about incurring some sort of debt. This is ALL about having your legs cut from underneath you while enrolled at an institution you chose based on benefits afforded to you.

  21. Chris says:

    How about a veteran like myself (who is no longer on active duty) who is going for a 5 year program like Engineering? I went to a community college, after my service ended, and graduated with my A.A. degree. Not coming out of high school, I had to take prep classes in order to register for college level degree courses like algebra, physics, and chemistry. I just started my B.S. program for my engineering degree and found out that the ch 33 G.I. bill will only cover 2 more semesters following the current semester I am enrolled in. An Engineering degree is realistically a 5 year program, and I’m left trying to figure out how I am going to cover another 2 or 3 semesters of school. The advisor at the vet success office told me that the GI Bill isn’t set up for those trying to obtain an engineering degree. There are obvious flaws in the program and I am satisfied that it has gotten me this far, but going into it I assumed that it would pay for me to get a bachelors degree and not just 3/4 of a degree. Is it really fair to feed false hope to those who put their time and money into the program only to be holding the bill at the end of your scholastic career?

  22. Mark L says:

    I think some are missing the point with the arguments about whether to fund advanced degrees or only undergraduate degrees. To be fair to all Post 9/11 Vets (Enlisted, and Officer) – I say let each have the same amount of money to spend on “their desired education”. If it costs more for advanced degrees, then so be it – at least some is covered. Some undergraduate degree’s are very expensive depending on the college attended. Bottomline – give the same amount – let each person decide what they do with it. If we had an unlimited amount of cash in the Fed’s vault, I’d say – fund “all” education for Vet’s up to an including PHD’s – if they want it. But, reality is – there are limits and we all have to figure out what they are for each person. Cheers – Enjoy the benefits while we have them – well deserved and kudo’s to all Vets!

  23. Meghan says:

    Is there a movement or petition to extend yellow ribbon benefits to active duty members and their spouses? I don’t see the logic of excluding active duty, what can I do to help change this policy?