By Steve Gonzalez, Executive Director of Veterans for Career Education
Labor Day 2019 marked one of the best years ever for jobs in the United States. The unemployment rate stands at record lows. The jobs vacancies are at all-time highs. Wages are increasing as demand for skilled workers grows.
But what if Labor Day 2019 is remembered as the year that veterans lost access to the job skills necessary for employment in today’s workplace? What if future Labor Day celebrations show a record number of unemployed veterans?
Since 2009, the Department of Labor has been collecting veteran-specific data for unemployment. In that same year, the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit became effective. A quick look at 2017 data from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that approximately half of the GI Bill benefit (66,000) go to veterans enrolled in either vocational/non-degree programs or two-year colleges. A similar number (67,000) pursue traditional 4-year liberal arts degrees.
But here’s the catch, proposals in Congress seek to end the use of a veteran’s earned GI Bill benefit at our nation’s career education colleges and universities. According to the Executive Director, Education Service Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veteran Affairs, if such proposals were to become law, VA has identified 133 schools that would be potentially affected with approximately 60,000 student veterans impacted. Consider a full decade of such impact, and we are looking at hundreds of thousands of veterans losing access to career education, career credentials, and career wages providing them a place in America’s middle class.
This is real! The unemployment rate for veterans peaked in 2011 at 9.9 percent – the combination of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit; access to career skills education; and a growing economy have reduced the jobless rate for veterans to a 10-year low.
Today, there are certain Members of Congress with a sense of academic elitism who believe the GI Bill benefit should only be used at traditional 4-year liberal arts universities. Such thinking ignores the reality many enlist into the military to be better than who they were yesterday, and that does not necessarily mean attaining a 4-year liberal arts degree. During their military careers, these servicemen and women develop an interest in a specific occupational interest – from aviation mechanics to nursing; cosmetology, diesel mechanics, the trades, or even IT. Upon completion of their military service, they seek a program that can provide them the credentials needed to begin a new career.
In 2018, there were 326,000 unemployed veterans. Thirty-five percent were between the ages of 25 and 44, with the remaining over 45 years of age. Many of these adults do not want the atmosphere of a college campus; they want the focus of an accelerated academic program that moves them to full-time employment in the fastest possible way.
The nation’s post-secondary career schools are primarily family-owned and operated. As such, the government currently limits the percent of total funds such schools can receive through financial aid and other federal programs — however, the GI Bill benefit has always been exempt from such calculations for one simple reason; the GI Bill benefit is a contract between the servicemember and their government. In exchange for their years of military service, at the end of their contract, the government provides these individuals the GI Bill benefit to be used at a school and program of their choice.
Today, these same Members of Congress want to change the treatment of the GI Bill benefit counting it as funding that comes through federal financial aid, and other such programs. When that happens, a school located in an area populated by low-income families and large numbers of veterans will fail the new formula. Under the different proposals before Congress, between 93 and 400 schools would close because they would be declared ineligible to serve students using federal financial aid.
When that happens, approximately 60,000 or higher veterans lose access to the career school of their choice. They lose access to their career. They lose access to the skills needed for success in today’s workplace. And in the end, Labor Days will become a celebration for all Americans – except Veterans.