5 new educational opportunities for veterans provided by the GI Bill

A Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet walks through campus in Princeton, New Jersey.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, better known as the "GI Bill."

Since then, the GI Bill has helped hundreds of thousands of American veterans afford to go to college. It has seen multiple iterations over the years. This year, the GI Bill received a major upgrade. In August, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act — otherwise known as the "Forever GI Bill" — was signed into law. The bill easily passed the House and the Senate and as Time reports, is the culmination of 18 separate bills.

This new bill will change the education benefits for military veterans and their families. Here are five of the biggest changes:

President Roosevelt signing the GI Bill of Rights in 1944.
Bettmann | Getty Images

Eliminates time limit

Under the previous G.I. Bill, veterans had 15 years to take advantage of their education benefits. The Forever GI Bill revokes this time limit for all veterans who left active duty in 2013 or later.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "The 15-year time limitation for using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits is eliminated for Veterans who left active duty on or after January 1, 2013, and qualifying dependents (Fry children who became eligible on or after January 1, 2013 and all Fry spouses)."

"Fry children" and "Fry spouses" refers to recipients of the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, which allows veteran families to enjoy GI benefits as well.

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Expands access

Typically the amount of benefits a veteran receives is dependent on how long they served in the military and the nature of their service. Perhaps the most influential aspect of the new GI Bill is that it expands Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a wider range of students.

Under the Forever GI Bill, National Guard and Reserve members will receive expanded benefits. Further, any veteran who is honored with a Purple Heart will be eligible for full benefits, regardless of how long they served.

College closure assistance

The new bill provides relief and assistance to GI Bill recipients who were unable to continue their education because the educational institution they were attending closed. This is significant, as many veterans have been affected by college closures.

Veterans disproportionately attend for-profit colleges, which are disproportionately prone to closures. CBS reports that of the $12 billion currently being spent to send veterans to college, 40 percent goes towards for-profit colleges. As for-profit colleges continue to crumble, many veterans are left empty-handed.

More broadly, higher education experts expect the number of school closures to increase drastically in the coming years, affecting all students including veterans.

The U.S. Department of Education and Moody's Investors Service project that in the coming years, closure rates of small colleges and universities will triple and mergers will double. At the Innovation + Disruption Symposium in Higher Education, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen predicted that "50 percent of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the US will be bankrupt in 10-15 years".

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Supports STEM programs

Thanks to the new Forever GI Bill, the VA will provide up to nine months of additional benefits for students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) undergraduate degrees.

The full list of programs that the new bill will provide additional support for is lengthy, and includes biological and physical sciences, computer and information science, engineering, medical residency and agriculture science.

The new bill also indicates that the VA will provide extra assistance for students pursuing "other subjects and fields identified by VA as meeting national needs." This language could allow the VA to expand the list of approved programs as they deem necessary.

Strengthens work study

The Forever GI bill will remove the expiration date put into place by the Post-9/11 GI Bill for work study. The new policy will provide additional compensation to veteran students who participate in work-study programs, including through veterans hospitals and veteran cemeteries.

According to the Veterans Affairs website, "If you're a full-time or 3/4-time student in a college degree, vocational or professional program, you can 'earn while you learn' with a VA work-study allowance."

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