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New GI Bill allows veterans access to private education

Administrators at Suffolk County Community College say the number of veterans applying for fall enrollment has jumped from about two per week last summer to about two per day this year.

Hofstra University officials say interest among military veterans also has spiked there, thanks to the new GI Bill, which will pay a larger share of a college education for personnel who have served since 9/11.

"We're facing an unprecedented enrollment [from veterans] this fall," said Kate Rowe, Suffolk County Community College's dean of enrollment.

The post 9/11 GI Bill takes effect Saturday, just in time for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars seeking financial help to attend college classes this fall.

Veterans who served after the 2001 terrorist attacks and who left the service with an honorable discharge are eligible for federal grants equal to the full cost of tuition at the most expensive public college in their state, according to the new law.

For New Yorkers, that equals $1,010 per credit - or even more at institutions that participate in a matching "yellow ribbon" sub-program - plus as much as $12,697 in fees.

The high reimbursement rate enjoyed by New Yorkers - only Texans are eligible for more - means eligible veterans may attend free at Hofstra University, a private college where tuition costs $30,130 per year.

Sandy Filbry, Hofstra's director of financial aid, said at least five veterans eligible for the full amount have enrolled there for fall classes.

"It allows a veteran or a member of their family to get a private education," she said. "It also benefits Hofstra, because private institutions have been hurt by the down economy."

Pegging the funding formula to the costliest public college in a state gives New York veterans a tuition advantage over their counterparts in states that scrimp on college spending. That comes because tuition at Cornell University's public divisions is more than some private institutions.

The new GI bill, signed into law in 2008, provides the biggest expansion of education funding for veterans since the 1944 Montgomery GI bill helped school a generation of World War II veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs expects to spend $78 billion nationwide on the postsecondary education package over the next 10 years.

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