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Army Touts Educational Benefits of 'New G.I. Bill'

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While the Reagan Administration seeks to cut federal financial-aid programs for college students, one branch of government is offering expanded opportunities for education assistance.

Last week, the U.S. Army kicked off a new $8-million advertising campaign, promoting the benefits it will offer soon under the so-called "New G.I. Bill."

As of July 1, new recruits who sign up for four years prior to June 30, 1988, and who pledge a $1,200 personal contribution, can earn up to $25,200 in tax-free education assistance, or $700 per month for 36 months, according to Major Robert Mirelson.

Payments to soldiers in all services under the new G.I. Bill could total $1 billion over the life of the program, according to Jill T. Cochran, staff assistant to the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Army College Fund

Of the four major services, only the Army, which has the greatest manpower needs, supplements Veterans Administration education benefits available to all servicemen.

Last year, under its Army College Fund program, the Army paid 34,688 student-soldiers some $48.7 million in additional financial aid. This year, it anticipates spending $84.3 million on 41,307 recipients, according to Major Mirelson.

"It's been a popular program, no doubt about it," he said.

The Army's new recruiting drive comes at a time when the Reagan Administration has proposed a $2.3-billion spending cut in financial-aid programs administered by the Education Department. Under the Administration's proposal, no college student could receive more than $4,000 a year in grants and loans.

The American Council on Education estimates that the cut would eliminate two million students from the eligibility rolls for grants and loans. Six million students nationwide currently receive some form of federal education assistance, according to the ace

Early Recruiting

Although the Army has already begun publicizing its new assistance program, the program itself does not go into effect for four months.

Major Mirelson said the Army decided to advertise now because it wants to "get the word out" to high-school students who will graduate in June. He also said recruits could sign up for the program now and enter the Army later under its "delayed-entry program."

Major Mirelson rejected the suggestion that the Army started the campaign early to take advantage of students' uncertainty about their eligibility for federal grants and loans for college. "Not really," he said. "Getting the word out is very important. It would not have been as wise to start on July 1."

But Major Mirelson acknowledged that the Administration's proposed cuts would probably help the Army's recruiting campaign. "That's obviously a factor, with programs being cut in the outside world," he said.

New G.I. Bill

The New G.I. Bill, designed to help the services recruit and retain enlistees, was signed into law by6President Reagan last October.

It replaces the eight-year-old Veterans Education and Assistance Program--a "miserable failure," according to Jim Holley, a press aide to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Under the veap program, the services match on a 2-to-1 basis personal contributions of up to $2,700--for a maximum government benefit per serviceman of $5,400.

On top of that, the Army, out of its own budget, offered four-year enlistees up to another $18,300 in "Army College Fund" aid, bringing the total maximum payment to $26,400.

Of the Army's 140,000 recruits each year, more than 60 percent qualify for benefits and about 30 percent take adventage of them, Major Mirelson said.

But only 7 percent of all eligible servicemen participate in the veap program, according to Mr. Holley. According to Ms. Cochran, more than 400,000 servicemen drew veap payments in the fiscal year 1985, but nearly another 100,000 dropped out of the program.

No Help for Neediest

The problem with the veap program, according to Mr. Holley, is that it requires enlistees to contribute too much of their own money, and is therefore inaccessible to the neediest soldiers.

"The poor ones who need an education don't have the money," he said.

At the same time, the military expects to have a harder time recruiting and retaining soldiers due to the improved economy and the shrinking pool of eligible enlistees, Mr. Holley said.

"We need to prepare for that and not get into the situation of the 1970's, when attrition rates were sky high," Ms. Cochran said.

Mr. Holley cited a Brookings Institute study that found the services will need to recruit two of every three 18-to-21-year-olds in coming years just to maintain current force levels.

"If they're going to recruit that many, they darn well better have a good incentive. And we think education is the best way to go," Mr. Holley said.

New Benefits

Under the new program, the four services will offer recruits up to $9,600 in aid, matched by an enlist-ee contribution of only $1,200. Army recruits could earn an extra $14,400 from the Army College Fund, bringing their total maximum benefits to $25,200.

New recruits who sign on for less than four years can also earn substantial amounts of aid. For three years of service, benefits total $22,800; for two years, they total $17,000.

To qualify for the $9,600 in New G.I. Bill funds, a recruit needs a high-school diploma, a commitment to the service of at least two years, and an honorable discharge.

To qualify for the additional Army College Fund benefits, applicants must also score at least 50 out of 100 on the Armed Forces qualification test and enlist in one of the Army's so-called "critical skill" areas, such as the infantry.

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