Thanks to the GI Bill, I was able to finish college without any debt. It didn't cover quite everything -- my wife and I lived in an apartment her family owned, which made up the difference -- but it enabled me to go the last two years without working a part-time job the way I had to for the first two. Times have changed, though, and the GI Bill doesn't cover as much as it once did:
The maximum GI Bill amount a currently enrolled veteran who served on active duty can qualify for during a college career is roughly $38,700. But for many students, that is not nearly enough to pay for tuition, room, board and books. And the GI Bill covers only four years of school, leaving veterans on their own if they take longer to graduate.
The average cost of one year's tuition, room and board at four-year public institutions in 2006-07 was $12,796, according to the College Board. For private schools, the one-year cost was $30,367. Tuition and fees at all schools have risen 35 percent in the past five years, while the highest GI Bill monthly payout has increased only 20 percent since 2002.
Big student loans are not uncommon among college students in general; the average graduate now leaves school with $19,000 in loans.
There are lawmakers who want to try to boost GI benefits some more, and I have mixed feelings about it. People who serve their country deserve respect and a certain amount of payback, but should they, in the words of a veteran quoted in the story, get a "free ride" instead of a "head start"? One bill by Sen. Jim Webb would pay, for any member of the military who served after Sept. 11, 2001, the full cost of tuition, room and board and provide a montly stipend of $1,000 above that. That even goes beyond the scope of the orginal program, which gave veterans about $500 a year-- back then, enough to pay for tuition, room and books at most colleges.
I think giving Guard and Reserve members the same benefits is a no-brainer, though, considering what we have asked of them in iraq and Afghanistan.