How Far The G.I. Bill Really Takes You

You’ve seen the ads on TV, on billboards, in magazines promising that if you sign on the dotted line, after four short, easy years of military service, college will get paid for. Aww, thanks Uncle Sam. But is it always true?

For starters, the money available to veterans through the Montgomery GI Bill, the 1984 revamped version of the original legislation, is a fixed amount. It doesn’t change if you go to a $30,000 a year private school in Connecticut or a $26 a credit community college in California. For someone who served in the active-duty military, the standard allotment is $1,075 tax-free dollars a month. That number goes down to $309 for reservists, but bonuses throw in as much as $950. Here’s how some of our veterans faired at their respective schools...

Ex-Marine and University of Wisconsin-Madison junior Jake Warner gets a monthly check for $1,185, enough to cover his living expenses ($510 for rent + $250 necessities) plus four 30-packs of Miller High Life. But, he says, “you can’t survive off just the GI Bill.” After financial aid, his tuition bill ends up around $2,000 a semester. He tutors a seventh grader to make up the difference.

Because she received an ROTC scholarship as an undergrad, Starr Renee-Corbin, a UT-Austin grad student, doesn’t a get a dime from the feds. But thanks to the state of Texas’ Hazelwood Act, she gets 150 credit hours of public university tuition for free. “The paperwork was really easy,” she said.

Jon “Johnny” Kuskie is living high on the hog at Chadron State College. His monthly $1,225 covers his needs, including $133 for rent plus an estimated $3,000 a semester for tuition. With the low cost of housing in his little corner of Nebraska, he spends as much on beer as he does on rent, he said. “Of course,” he said, “if I went to the [more expensive] University of Nebraska, I’d be hurting.”