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1,100 colleges join Veterans Affairs' reduced-tuition program for students

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; B03

A year after the Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect, about 1,100 private and public colleges and universities have signed on with the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce tuition for student veterans in the coming school year, the agency said Wednesday.

The colleges range from Harvard University to Texas A&M University, and the pledges for subsidies vary widely.

Harvard will contribute a maximum of $3,000 each for 50 undergraduates and $20,000 each for 20 law school enrollees, whereas Texas A&M will pay $12,000 each for 25 undergraduates, according to a VA Web site. American University in the District will pay up to $13,800 each for 24 undergraduates. Many schools have multiple programs that have agreed to participate, bringing the total to 3,200, the VA said.

The "Yellow Ribbon" program took effect on Aug. 1, 2009, part of an ambitious new GI Bill that covers the cost of in-state tuition at state universities and shares the cost of more-expensive private colleges and some state schools -- if the colleges choose to fund subsidies to close that gap. The government matches dollar-for-dollar any additional tuition aid provided by the private school. The bill applies to community colleges and four-year institutions. Veterans also receive a monthly housing allowance and a stipend for books and supplies.

As of the spring, 228,994 veterans had enrolled in school using the new federal benefits, at about 4,400 colleges and universities across the country. About 22,500 students enrolled in private schools through the Yellow Ribbon program, VA officials said.

And for the first time, service members can transfer the tuition benefit to spouses or children. A spouse, for example, can use the benefit for up to 15 years after the service member leaves active duty.

The bill dramatically expands benefits over the original GI Bill signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. That bill made a college education affordable for millions of World War II veterans, but the system, and other veteran benefits programs that followed, did not keep pace with the rising costs of college.

VA officials said the agency has stepped up its efforts to advertise the program to returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and to college admissions staffs. The agency has hired hundreds of claims processors to administer the bill, which had a rocky start last year when thousands of students faced a backlog in reimbursements for tuition, housing and textbook payments. The agency provided $3,000 in emergency aid per eligible student, and officials said they expect a smooth process this fall.

The benefits have eligibility limits that include three years of active service or separation resulting from a service-connected disability.

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