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The Modern GI Bill: Empowering Veterans through Education and Policy

September 07, 2018
For nearly 75 years, the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the GI Bill, has provided grants for veterans to attend college or a vocational school and take out low-interest loans to start their own businesses. However, modernization has been made to the GI Bill, with the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008—known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill—and the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, or the Forever GI Bill to allow the program to adapt to the 21st Century.  These two modern bills have created more opportunities for veterans to continue their education after they finish their military service, allowing more students to attend higher education programs.

GI Bill spending is beneficial for the nation’s economy. Early reports indicate that there is a return of $8 for every $1 spent on Post 9/11 GI Bill programs.[1] This indicates that the funds spent on this program are not merely another government expenditure, but an investment in the future for both these individuals but for the American economy.

In the 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) studied the impact of government programs, most specifically the Post 9/11 GI Bill, on the status of veterans. Findings indicated that veterans were pursuing higher education at nearly the same rate as the general population—with 48% of veterans completing degree programs—compared to 49% of traditional Beginning Postsecondary Students.[2] These degree programs have led to approximately a 3% increase in college enrollment nationwide. Seven out of every ten veterans who have enrolled in a post-secondary program are either currently working on or finishing their degree.[3] The Post 9/11 GI Bill had greatly streamlined the process of receiving their GI Bill funding and in turn, made it significantly easier to pay both the veterans and the schools directly for their respective needs.

Image: GAO Analysis of VA Documents, Source: WikimediaImage: GAO Analysis of VA Documents, Source: Wikimedia

However, usage of the educational benefits dropped in 2017, even with the implementation of the Forever GI Bill. This was due to increased government regulations on for-profit “fly-by-night” schools, that rewarded credits for military service. These schools, due to their for-profit nature, could close at any time and leave students without a degree, and furthermore, wasting their benefits. In 2017, this was exactly what happened as schools such as, ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian College closed, leaving students in debt and without degrees. The number of students attending these for profit institutions went from over 155,000 in 2015 to less than 84,000 in 2017.[4] However, the Forever GI Bill has put in new safeguards to protect veterans who attend for profit colleges, by providing assistance to those who were attending these schools and could not finish their due to closure.[5] This safety net will ultimately help more veterans enroll in postsecondary education programs without the fear of the institution abandoning them.

In terms of unemployment and workforce, the Post 9/11 G.I Bill veterans were earning on average $4,030 more than their civilian equivalents annually.[6] However, those who were covered under the Pre-9/11 veterans are earning less than their counterparts from 2011 onwards; thus potentially showing the measurable economic impacts of the 2008 legislation. Looking deeper, female veterans who had taken advantage of the GI Bill were found to be earning over $5,000 more than female non-veterans in the same age group.[7]

These findings do not include any effects of the Forever GI Bill, as the data comes from before the new legislation was passed, but the Forever GI Bill will expand educational programming covered. This would allow older workers who have not used their GI educational benefits and may have been displaced by new technology and a lack of modern skills to attend programs that would make them competitive members of the modern workforce. The Forever GI Bill includes a pilot program, where alternative educational programming—such as coding “boot camps” can be covered by the government. This would incentivize veterans to gain valuable skills for the modern market in a way that conserves both money and time.[8]

The skills gap in America is preventing the American economy from operating at its full potential. A recent report stated that the economy added over 200,000 jobs in June 2018, and a total of 6.7 million job openings nationwide.[9] However, employers cannot fill them because of a lack of skilled workers. This led to an increase in the unemployment rate and a supply induced economic issue.[10] However, the programs offered in the Forever GI Bill can allow veterans to close this gap, as the new legislation has waived the prior 5-year limitation on using GI Bill education benefits—and develop the skills that they need to fill these highly skilled positions.[11] Over one fifth of veterans using the program are 35 years old or older, showing that both the need for updated skills and the economic benefits of expanding the GI Bill.[12]

This is especially true for STEM majors, as the bill allows for an extra year of funding if a student pursues an education within this field. There is a tremendous shortage for workers in these fields, yet only 14% of Post 9/11 GI Bill recipients have completed a STEM program. The new incentives in the Forever GI Bill will hopefully incentivize veterans to move into these fields and fill these much needed positions.

The modernization of the GI Bill has allowed for American veterans to better themselves in the long-term—by both updating timelines and benefits. These allow for veterans, who are already incredibly skilled in areas such as teamwork, leadership, and other integral assets, to take advantage of these programs and boost the nation’s economy as key contributors who can fill the void of skilled workers that industry desires.

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  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.


  [1] Howe, Miguel. “How the Post-9/11 GI Bill Will Help Veterans Close America’s Skills Gap.” The Hill. July 21, 2017. Accessed July 09, 2018. http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-military/342585-how-the-post-9-11-gi-bill-can-close-our-nations-skills-gap.

  [2] 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Washington, D.C., 2015. 10.

  [3] Cate, C.A., Lyon, J.S., Schmeling, J., & Bogue, B.Y. “National Veteran Education Success Tracker: A Report on the Academic Success of Student Veterans Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill.” Student Veterans of America, Washington, D.C. 2017.

  [4] Gross, Natalie. “Post-9/11 GI Bill Usage Dropped Sharply. Cause for Concern?” Reboot Camp. June 11, 2018. Accessed July 09, 2018. https://rebootcamp.militarytimes.com/news/education/2018/06/11/post-911-gi-bill-usage-dropped-sharply-cause-for-concern/.

  [5]Hess, Abigail. “5 New Educational Opportunities for Veterans Provided by the GI Bill.” CNBC. November 13, 2017. Accessed July 09, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/10/5-new-educational-opportunities-for-veterans-provided-by-the-gi-bill.html.

  [6]2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report. 11.

  [7]2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Washington, D.C., 2015. 12.

  [8]Sattelmeyer, Sarah. “What Role Does Postsecondary Education Play in Veterans’ Economic Opportunity?” Pew. March 20, 2018. Accessed July 09, 2018. http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/03/20/what-role-does-postsecondary-education-play-in-veterans-economic-opportunity.

  [9] Needham, Vicki. “Economy Adds 213K Jobs in June, Unemployment Ticks up to 4 Percent.” The Hill. July 06, 2018. Accessed July 09, 2018. http://thehill.com/policy/finance/395755-june-jobs.

  [10]Cox, Jeff. “The U.S. Labor Shortage Is Reaching a Critical Point.” CNBC. July 05, 2018. Accessed July 09, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/05/the-us-labor-shortage-is-reaching-a-critical-point.html.

  [11]Roe, David. “H.R.3218 - Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017” U.S. Congress. July 13, 2017. Accessed July 24, 2018. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3218/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22hr+3218%22%5D%7D&r=1

  [12]Mann, Elizabeth. “Transitioning from War to Workforce under the New ‘Forever’ GI Bill.” Brookings. July 28, 2017. Accessed July 09, 2018. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2017/07/28/transitioning-from-war-to-workforce-under-the-new-forever-gi-bill/.


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