Picture of Colonel Clarence Hodson

The Hodson Trust provides funds that enable the four Maryland colleges to further grow their educational offerings and scholarship programs.

COLLEGE-BOUND GIs GET EXTRA HELP

Support Over Eight Decades Tops $184 Million

November 14, 2007 – By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY
Concerned, and in some cases angry, that the federal GI Bill no longer covers the cost of college for many veterans, philanthropists are stepping forward to fill in some of the gaps.

The original GI Bill entitled World War II veterans to tuition, books and a living stipend that covered the cost of education. Today, the maximum benefit for a nine-month academic year is $9,609. That covers about 66% of the tuition, room and board charges and estimated costs for books and supplies at an in-state four-year public university, estimated this year to be an average of $14,577.

"Frankly, I"m just angry that our country doesn"t express their appreciation for what these people are doing for us," says billionaire financier Jerome Kohlberg, a World War II veteran.

Among initiatives:

• Kohlberg today will announce the first recipients of his national Fund for Veterans" Education, a need-based scholarship to which he has donated $4 million so far. It covers tuition, fees, books and supplies for at least one veteran in every state and Washington, D.C.

• Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., announced on Tuesday that two alumni have contributed "substantial gifts" to create need-based scholarships for up to 10 former service members, beginning with students entering next fall.

• The non-profit Hodson Trust this fall launched a scholarship for veterans enrolled in four private Maryland colleges. Five veterans, attending either Washington College in Chestertown or Hood in Frederick, are participating this semester.

"Anybody who gives up years of his or her life and serves our country in harm's way should, at the very least, be given a fully paid higher education," says Hodson Trust chair Finn Caspersen.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than a dozen states have passed laws that reduce or waive tuition for in-state veterans who attend public universities. A defense bill being considered in Congress could expand some GI Bill benefits.

These private efforts expand opportunities for veterans to attend private institutions, which are generally more expensive. Wesleyan, for example, estimates its annual cost of attendance at nearly $47,000. Without extra help, most vets "could not pay the expenses associated with attending a place such as Wesleyan," says donor Frank Sica, a 1973 graduate and trustee.

Donor Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire George Soros and a 1992 Wesleyan graduate, says the benefits go both ways: "Veterans benefit from a liberal arts education, and the community benefits by learning from people of different backgrounds and confronting realities they wouldn"t otherwise directly encounter."

Details vary for each of the new scholarships, but funding generally kicks in after federal, state or institutional aid has been tapped.

Hodson's Caspersen says he hopes the initiatives "inspire copycats."

So does Kohlberg, who used the GI Bill to earn degrees at Swarthmore, Harvard Business School and Columbia University's law school.

He plans to solicit other big donors, and he is urging Congress to act.

"The guys and women coming back from service have nothing like what we had. … and I know how important education is," he says. "The private world can"t do the whole job."

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