Sunday, July 31, 2005

Revitalizing the GI Bill for those on active military service: what priorities could be more important?

This evening as I drove home from the country, WETA was broadcasting a program on the GI bill, which helped many World War II veterans to complete a college education and helped some with professional degrees as well. According to the program/s researcher/script writers, the GI not only transformed the lives of many veterans, it transformed the American economy as well. The return on the GI investment, simply in terms of tax revenues, was eight to one.

Among other things, this reminded me that I, too, was the benefit of government scholarships. Much of my undergraduate education at Dartmouth was financed by a “Holloway Plan,” NROTC scholarship, which was followed by five years of military service as an officer in the regular navy. When I left the Navy, I was fortunate to receive a three year National Defense Education Act scholarship, providing tuition and stipend than enabled me to (modestly) support my young family and complete my Ph.D. in political science at the University of Minnesota. Then I received a postdoctoral fellowship from the Social Science Research Council to study mathematics – I think government money was involved in this as well.

What I wanted to express in this blog however, was not biographical information, but a concern about the declining priority that is being given to education at all levels and especially at the University level. If as data on the GI bill seems to attest, higher education is a great investment, why are tuition charges, not only at private universities like AU but at our great state universities like my alma mater, the University of Minnesota creeping inexorably upward? I can assure you it is not because professorial salaries are going through the roof, I can assure you. And why have educational benefits steadily been eroded due to “budgetary pressures.” What provisions of the current energy, transportation and defense bills could possibly be more important?

I will air my views on the egregious problems facing public primary and secondary education in a subsequent blog, but I don’t want to obscure the point of this one.

The GI bill proved that investment in higher education is one of the best investments our country can make. So why have educational benefits – for veterans especially – eroded when, as our President periodically emphasizes, we are at war. Could be because it is mostly poor people, with little political clout are now doing the fighting in America’s “volunteer” army. Could it be that our sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen and women cannot afford to retain high salaried lobbyists who sustain our present culture of legal-institutionalized bribery, targeted political campaign contributions? Could it be that so few of our current crop of political leaders have any serious military experience? (One of my personal heroes, Senator John McCain is a notable exception.) Are there any sons or daughters of Congresspersons and Senators who are presently serving on active duty in Iraq? I’ll bet there isn’t one.

The GI bill has demonstrated that providing inexpensive higher education to all who can use it responsibly is a positive sum investment for our nation. We should begin by making that investment on behalf of the young men and women who are fighting and dying for us on active military service.

7 Comments:

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I like the points you bring up. These days I feel very depressed about what is going on in Iraq and in the United States. The media is afraid to cover the war from a neutral standpoint. Bush seems to appoint whomever he wants without taking into consideration the Senate or the public's views. It seems like everything is about money, power, and the elite.

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