As the war on terror winds down, enrollment at colleges, universities and trade schools in the Augusta area has increased, in part thanks to a more generous GI Bill that Congress passed in 2008 to help post-9/11 veterans and their families afford an education.
From fiscal years 2009 through 2012, 2,310 veterans, military spouses and children have received $25.1 million of free tuition at local institutions of higher learning, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Students benefiting from the bill have attended a dozen schools in Augusta and Aiken, including Georgia Regents University and online schools such as the University of Phoenix.
With the Army expected to reduce its troop levels by 80,000 soldiers in 2014, experts say that use of the Post-9/11 GI Bill will see unprecedented growth in classrooms, bookstores and financial aid offices across the country.
“The rise in the trend is explained simply by veterans coming out of the service and signing up for benefits at an increasing rate as the Iraq and Afghanistan drawdown occurs,” said Randy Noller, a spokesman for the VA, which administers military education benefits. “In addition, GI Bill enhancements have allowed service members to enroll at nondegree producing institutions.”
Noller’s observation is supported in the region. For example, six people cashed in $50,000 from the GI Bill at the Augusta School of Massage.
During that same time, Strayer University’s Augusta campus collected the most GI Bill dollars, with $6.5 million from 352 students. It was followed by Georgia Regents University, which received $5.3 million from 577 students, according to federal data.
Plus, 32 veterans received an extra $5,500 through Yellow Ribbon scholarships.
Nationwide, more than 646,000 people used the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2012, up 16 percent from the 555,000 users in 2011, data indicate. In total, tuition assistance for veterans has more than doubled in the past decade, growing from 421,048 to 923,836 beneficiaries nationwide and amounting to more than $23 billion in benefits.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after Sept. 10, 2001, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.
It covers the full cost of in-state tuition at public universities, pays for books and grants a housing stipend that averages $1,400 to $1,500 per month nationwide.