WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 11, 2013 -
Before we begin, I would like to take a moment to remember the thousands of American lives that were lost on this day in 2001, and for the Americans who lost their lives during the terror attack in Benghazi last year. We will never forget them. The men, women, and children who died will ever be in our thoughts, and we will continue to pray for peace for their families. I ask my colleagues to join me for a moment of silence.
As we pause to remember the past today, it is fitting that we also hold this hearing to explore how we can move forward by supporting the brave men and women who have served our country in the wake of 9/11. America’s veterans face unique challenges as they return to civilian life. Some struggle with disabilities and combat stress injuries as a result of their service. Many others are older than traditional college students, work full time, or have a family to support.
Beginning with the enactment of the GI bill in 1944, the federal government has implemented a number of programs and initiatives to support servicemembers and veterans who wish to earn a postsecondary degree or obtain valuable job skills. This commitment to our men and women in uniform continues to grow with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provides financial support to help cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and housing at all types of colleges and universities.
Since 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has helped nearly one million veterans and their families access a postsecondary education. And as more troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, postsecondary institutions now face the largest influx of student veterans on campus since World War II.
The higher education community has a responsibility to tailor programs and coursework to ensure the needs of this unique student population are met and taxpayer resources are used wisely and efficiently. Fortunately, many schools are rising to the challenge.
A growing number of postsecondary institutions now offer more flexible course schedules, the ability for veterans to earn credit for skills learned outside the classroom, and online coursework that can be completed on a student’s own time. Other institutions, proprietary schools in particular, are working with the business community to craft targeted programs that help veterans learn the skills necessary to compete for in-demand jobs in their local economy.
In my home state, the University of North Carolina’s Partnership for National Security not only coordinates with state business leaders, but also works directly with military partners to develop a number of initiatives geared toward supporting our men and women in uniform, including special degree programs, pre-deployment education courses, and internships and fellowships.
Additionally, the UNC SERVES program collects data to provide university leaders with a better understanding of the needs and outcomes of the active-duty and veteran student population. This information will help prospective students make more informed decisions about their postsecondary pathway, and it will also encourage institutions to establish special outreach efforts such as student groups, orientation events, and counseling offices that help veterans successfully transition into academic life.
With the Higher Education Act due for reauthorization next year, today’s hearing provides a valuable opportunity to highlight institutional efforts to support veterans and servicemembers, while also exploring potential policy changes that could strengthen the law. We have an excellent panel of witnesses with us today, and I look forward to their testimony.
# # #