A recent scathing review conducted by the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General has found that some military service members may in fact have been overcharged on student loan interest rates after all. That’s an alarming reminder of just how difficult it can be for those who have served our country to navigate the very benefits put in place to make their higher education more affordable.
Let’s help protect our service members by proactively arming them with one weapon: accurate, up-to-date information.
To best help our service members, first, we must make the dizzying patchwork of federal and state education benefits more transparent and accessible. My employer, American Student Assistance, developed the free eBook guide “The Military Smartbook for Defeating Student Debt” specifically to be a one-stop resource and a model for making this information as streamlined and simplified as possible.
Next, we need to acknowledge the stumbling block is not only a lack of information, but a lack of effectiveness in getting the information out. Service providers in higher education and military affairs can solve this problem by linking existing educational resources to provide a seamless experience. Let’s not wait for service members to seek us out; instead, we can build better networks among schools, government agencies, community service providers, private sector employers and more, to share and distribute information to this population. Make the information readily available to service members where they study, where they apply for other VA benefits, where they work, and where they gather.
Lastly, we need to bust the myth that “veterans don’t have student debt because they all have access to the GI Bill.” While the 2009 GI Bill was a huge step forward in delivering the most comprehensive package of educational benefits to those who have served in the United States armed forces, the fact of the matter is that student debt is a growing problem for this population. It’s time to enhance protections and programs for our brave servicemen and women as they pay for (and repay) higher education. After all, we all share in their prosperity: the GI Bill of the 1940s brought a nearly sevenfold increase to the national economy, laying the foundation for the modern middle class as we know it.
Our veterans shouldn’t feel as though their higher education options and benefits are wearing camouflage; let’s make their support and resources as transparent and readily accessible as possible.
Fudge is manager of Consumer Advocacy and Community Affairs for the Center for Consumer Advocacy at American Student Assistance®, a private nonprofit dedicated to eliminating college financing as a barrier to education and long-term financial success.