College Connect: New GI Bill restrictions helped many, but hurt some (like me) in the process

Posted By sabew

By Robert W. Johnson / Life on the GI Bill

On January 4, 2011 congress voted to make major changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Dubbed GI Bill 2.0, the measures signed into law help to fill gaps where some veterans were overlooked.

The Bill will now provide for licensing, certifications and non-college degree programs. It will also provide a fair housing allowance to wounded veterans using vocational rehabilitation, as well as an allowance to distance learning students.

Unfortunately for those of us in private schools, it also capped private tuition payment at $17,500 a year — about $3,000 less than my spring semester. NYU’s annual tuition for graduate students about $40,000 in tuition and fees.

The Veterans Administration announcement came six weeks after my move to New York City to attend NYU journalism school. Though the legislation had been in the pipeline for some time, I had no idea it was coming.

Oddly, the VA was still willing to pick up the tab for any state school, even if it’s more than private school, and there were no plans to “grandfather” current, private school students in.

My wife cried. I suffered a severe case of potential regret. After all, I’d left one of the best public journalism schools in the world (Missouri) to attend NYU. At Mizzou, graduate tuition and fees is about $15,000, though most get tuition waivers by being teaching assistants.

So, stuck in New York with an apartment lease, I turned to the public City University of New York , which started a notable Graduate School of Journalism in 2007. I wrote to the director of admissions, Stephen Dougherty.

My email to him mentioned the GI Bill change and the fact that I’d obviously missed the deadline for Fall 2011, but could I be considered for admission?

He replied: “I did hear something about this situation, which is most unsettling. Would it be possible for us to get together to talk over options? Rest assured, no deadline would stand in the way of supporting you if the mechanics can be worked out.”

Even though it would tack on semesters to my graduation, the relief was palpable. At least I could go to J-School somewhere.

This is not to say the people at NYU weren’t also helpful and sympathetic, but the sums involved were just too far removed from a public school budget. Student loans weren’t possible – you just can’t get them after age 35. I’d not realized this until it was suggested I take some out. No thanks, at least, not if I didn’t have to.

The director of the Business Journalism program at CUNY made a call to the managing editor at Business Insider, where I had my spring internship, for a reference.

The editor endorsed me, and unwittingly found out about my enrollment problems. Within a week or so, I was asked if I would consider a full time position in exchange for not attending school full time in the fall.

I told them I would consider it and suddenly the option of going to school part time made more sense.

GI Bill 2.0 prorates the BAH housing allowance based upon anything below full time. But, at NYU, if I enrolled for 7 credits or more, I was considered full time. Normally this would be three, three credit classes, or 9 hours, — a tall order with working 50 hours a week.

By chance, the classes at the NYU journalism school are four credits apiece, so I’’ll enroll in 8 hours. This maintain my VA housing allowance, my degree pursuit and I’ll also have a full time job with benefits.

None of which would have happened if not for the tragic news about the GI Bill changes. Just goes to show — you truly never know how things will work out.
And, as this is a personal finance blog, I should mention my personal finances are greatly enhanced with a salary. Greatly.

Robert W. Johnson is a veteran and master’s candidate at New York University. He transferred to NYU after a semester at Missouri.

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