Guest Commentary: UH should show veterans support

It is with great pleasure that I take this opportunity to share information on the importance of the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and its impact on higher education.

But first, let’s look back 50-some-odd years ago, when†the nation wanted to thank our men and women who returned from war for their service. One way Congress decided to do that is through what became known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. The official title was the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it in 1944, even before the war ended.

The law gave the following benefits to U.S. soldiers coming home from World War II: education and training opportunities; loan guarantees for a home, farm or business; job-finding assistance; unemployment pay of $20 per week for up to 52 weeks if the veteran couldn’t find a job; and priority for building materials for Veterans Affairs Hospitals.

Thousands of veterans used the G.I. Bill to go to school, and veterans made up 49 percent of U.S. college enrollment in 1947.

"What is a veteran?" One may ask. A veteran is a person who served on active duty as a member of the armed forces of the United States and was released from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable discharge. Our own University has had a long involvement with veterans since 1947. In 1949, World War II veterans increased the growth of the University by thousands under the G.I. Bill. The question now is whether this new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill will have the same results as the original G.I. Bill.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act was legislated by the House of Representatives and passed in both houses on July 31, 2008. This legislation was the first reauthorizing of the Higher Education Act in 10 years. This bill, building upon the old G.I. Bill’s theme of making college more accessible for veterans, was created to "increase aid and support for veterans and military families," and includes: creating new scholarship programs for active duty military personnel and family members; including children and spouses of active duty military service members or veterans; establishing support centers on colleges and universities to help veterans succeed in college; and ensuring fairness in student aid and housing aid for veterans to make it easier for them to go to college while also fulfilling their military service duties.

Enrolled at the University of Houston in Fall 2006 were 541 G.I. Bill or other federally funded program recipients, and 515 veterans received Hinson-Hazlewood Act benefits for Texas veterans. With the Post-9/11 G.I. bill activated and implemented in August 2009 with greater potential of attracting more veterans to our University, "How many veterans can we attract to our University?" should be the pressing question. This question is being mulled over by faculty, staff and administration as we meet on reviewing policies and practices that effect veteran admission, persistence and graduating rates.

I am proud to be at a University that sees opportunities and takes active steps toward such a vital population, which is mostly non-traditional – with other special circumstances – and which can assist our University to grow in population and to be a flagship university. When it comes to students who have not only lifted up their voices, but fought for their countrymen and women under great sacrifice, veterans will have an important role in achieving this status.

So I ask the University of Houston, can we continue to be the University like no other with continued support and adaptation of our ways of doing things for those who have served, or are we going to drop the ball and not capitalize on this opportunity that may be another 50 years in the making?

UH, let’s not disappoint our legacy. Keep up the support and strive to do better.

Grundy, an education graduate student and program director at the Veterans’ Services Office, can be reached via [email protected]

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