Student veteran numbers growing across country, SC

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comMarch 23, 2014 

SFC David Stover of Fort Jackson instructs soldiers in training in 2013.

KIM KIM FOSTER-TOBIN — kkfoster@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Five years after the post-9/11 G.I. Bill took effect, the number of veterans in higher education nationwide has grown quickly.

Veteran enrollment grew 67 percent nationally between 2009 and 2012. The rise was even more pronounced in South Carolina -- 89 percent during the same period.

Local schools have benefited from the expanded G.I. Bill.

At the Technical College of the Lowcountry, the number of veterans began increasing even before the bill's passage in 2008, and it spiked once provisions took effect in 2009, TCL director of marketing and communications Leigh Copeland said.

After enrolling about 180 veterans in the 2008-09 school year, 300 enrolled for in the 2009-10 school year. Since then, the school has enrolled about 230 each year, she said.

Although veterans don't account for a large percentage of University of South Carolina Beaufort's enrollment, the number enrolled under the expanded G.I. Bill nearly doubled the first year it was offered, going from 59 in the 2009-10 academic year to 100 the following year, according to statistics from the school's financial aid and veterans affairs director, Patricia Greene.

The level dipped slightly in the past academic year, in part because 10 veterans graduated, Greene said.

The bill's benefits are available to service members who served at least 90 days since Sept. 11, 2001. They remain available for as long as 15 years after the end of their active duty. Service members with at least three years of active duty get 100 percent of their education covered for four academic years.

Additional provisions include stipends for books, coverage for licensing and certification tests, and, in certain situations, money to cover housing costs.

Another provision allows service members who serve at least six years of active duty to transfer their benefits to a spouse, Copeland said. Those with 10 years of active duty can transfer their benefits to their children.

New online tools released earlier this year also make it easier to search the educational benefits offered at schools around the country.

A Veterans Administration comparison tool launched in February allows veterans to compare and search individual schools and the benefits they offer.

For instance, a veteran with at least 10 years of active duty would qualify for 100 percent of tuition, a book stipend of as much as $1,000 a year, and housing allowances for a full-time student for as much as $1,194 at both TCL and USCB -- all found on the VA site at http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/.

And an online system started in January allows student veterans to submit complaints to the Department of Veterans Affairs about problems they've had accessing benefits at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/feedback.asp.

McClatchy-Tribune staff reporter Lauren Kirkwood contributed to this report.

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