GI Bill's Yellow Ribbon Program to Launch in August 2009
This summer, Sacred Heart University will begin offering tuition assistance to veterans and service members under The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, helping members of that population study in its graduate and full- or part-time undergraduate programs.
SHU will assist those eligible as part of the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program, a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that allows degree-granting institutions of higher learning to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to fund tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate. As part of the program, Sacred Heart may contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses, and VA will match the amount.
“The new Post-9/11 GI Bill takes veterans’ educational opportunities to a whole new level,” says Mary Lou DeRosa, SHU’s dean of University College. “There are now better benefits in terms of eligibility criteria, the eligibility period, and the financial value.”
The funds for tuition and fees for eligible veterans and service members will be sent to the University. Additionally, students in the program may receive funds directly from the Yellow Ribbon Program for monthly housing allowances, books and supplies, tutorial assistance, work study benefits, rural allowance, and licensing and certification fees.
Candidates may be eligible for the program if:
- they served an aggregate period of active duty after September 10, 2001, of at least 36 months;
- they were honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability and served 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001; or
- they are dependents eligible for Transfer of Entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill based on a veteran’s service under the eligibility criteria listed above.
The last criterion is particularly important, as it clarifies that veterans may pass Yellow Ribbon benefits to their immediate family.
DeRosa notes that SHU’s participation in the program fits perfectly with the University’s mission. “It’s the right thing to do for the service men and women who have put their lives on hold for our country, and it’s wonderful that we have the opportunity to help them with their education when they return from their service,” she says.
DeRosa also points out that in return, veterans provide a benefit to other SHU students by their presence and unique understanding of world issues. “Veterans bring a different perspective to the classroom,” she says.
Though the program does not officially launch until August 1, SHU has already begun to prepare to serve the veteran population.
“In order to better coordinate all efforts on campus, a GI Bill Task Force was formed”, DeRosa says. “Staff in the Registrar’s office, Student Financial Assistance, Student Accounts, Web Content Management, Public Relations, and Admissions are coordinating their efforts. We all came together to see how we can best respond to anyone in the military who will qualify for these benefits.”
SHU has designated Jon De Benedictis — a recruiter and admissions coordinator for University College — as the point person for students entering SHU under the Yellow Ribbon Program. De Benedictis has prepared for his new responsibility by visiting the Naval base in Groton, Connecticut; participating in webinars organized by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; and meeting with VA officials in New Haven and with Dr. Gary Rose, professor and chair of SHU’s Government and Politics Department and advisor to the University’s Army ROTC program.
De Benedictis says he’s already been in touch with several veterans and service members, including a few who are still serving in Iraq. “They want to get set up so that once they’re out of the service, they come home and they unwind a little bit, and then they jump into school here at Sacred Heart,” he says. “One of the nice things now is that they’re able to get a quality education at an institution where they’ll receive individualized attention. Getting them here to take courses is one thing, but I think it’s important that once they’re here, we make them feel like they’re really part of the community at SHU.”
The importance of the program is apparent also to Dr. Gary Rose, the author of several books on government and a frequent commentator for various media regarding national politics.
“Sacred Heart University’s willingness to participate in the GI Bill’s Yellow Ribbon Program demonstrates the firm commitment of our institution to the brave men and women who have served our country during a time of crisis,” Rose says. “Sacred Heart has always been receptive to military veterans, as institutions of higher learning should be, and we will continue to accommodate the educational needs of military veterans who seek a college degree. We will also be exploring ways in which veterans can socially interact with one another and various ways in which veterans can participate in the life of the University. In my view, any private college or university in the United States has a moral obligation to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.”
On June 16, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) publicly commended the institutions taking part in the Yellow Ribbon Program. “The participation of numerous Connecticut colleges and universities … is remarkable and impressive, although not surprising,” Dodd said. “Connecticut’s colleges and universities have long supported the men and women who serve our country. This program allows America’s military heroes to attend some of the best colleges and universities across the nation, providing them with the critical resources needed to assimilate back into civilian life and pursue their academic and career goals.”
SHU has committed to extend the Yellow Ribbon benefits to up to 100 students for the upcoming academic year. According to VA, two million vets are eligible for benefits, and the GI Bill expansion will spend about $62 billion over 10 years for a projected average annual benefit of $19,600 per vet.