Nick Boire started college in the fall of 2001. But after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, he dropped everything and enlisted in the United States Marines.
Eight years and three deployments later, Boire, 27, is a first-year student in Fordham’s College of Liberal Studies, thanks to a new, more generous GI Bill.
“It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread,” said Boire of the government plan that pays for veterans to go to college. “It’s pretty clutch.”
Fordham has seen a surge of veterans enter its classrooms this fall thanks to the new bill, which took effect this past August. It has been hailed as the most comprehensive education benefit for veterans since World War II.
The revamped bill has brought 49 veterans and eight military dependents to Fordham. In addition, 23 veterans and seven military dependents who already were enrolled at the University will continue their studies under the new bill.
These veterans gathered on Nov. 11 on all three campuses for a Veterans Day salute. Linked by videoconference, they were addressed and blessed by Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham.
“I want you to know how deeply grateful the nation is, and how proud Fordham is to have you as part of our family,” Father McShane said. “You add a great deal to the University. You are students, but you are also mentors to our younger students.”
The maximum federal grant, given to those who have served at least three years since Sept. 11, 2001, covers nearly full tuition at public colleges and universities for four years, plus books and housing expenses.
For those going to private universities such as Fordham, the government will pay up to the cost of the state’s most expensive public university.
Moreover, the federal government makes tuition and fee payments directly to veterans’ colleges or universities. This is considered a major improvement over the Montgomery GI Bill, which required students to pay tuition up front and then receive a reimbursement.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but all training programs must be offered by a degree-granting institution of higher learning.
“It’s a really outstanding benefit,” said Peter Vaughan, Ph.D., co-chair for the FordhamVets Task Group and dean of the Graduate School of Social Service. “What this will do for our country is the same thing the GI bill did after World War II—help build a solid middle class. It really creates incentives for people to go back to school.
“We have always had some veterans who were able to come up with the extra funds to come to Fordham, but the new bill gives veterans a wider range of choices when choosing a school,” Vaughan added.
In addition, Fordham has joined the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program, which allows the University to offer grants matched by the government to cover all tuition and fees for veterans in the 100 percent eligibility category.
Those are vets who have been on active duty for at least 36 months since Sept. 11, 2001, or those who served 30 continuous days after 9/11 and have been honorably discharged from active duty for a service-related disability.
Father McShane was among the first university presidents in the nation to opt for full participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Boire, who said he grew up “all over the country” and graduated from high school in Minnesota, stumbled upon the Fordham in a unique way.
“I was on a ship headed toward the horn of Africa when I found out I got accepted into Marine Officer School. A buddy of mine said Fordham was a really great school,” he said. “I figured, New York sounds fun, so why not? I went on the website and loved everything it had to say. So far, I love it. The professors are great.”
Boire said he feels fortunate to be on his way to earning a degree so that he can return to the Marines and become an officer.
“It’s more than a just a job. It defines you,” he said. “I’m so grateful that I’m getting to get my degree in order to become an officer. Many of my buddies are in the process of applying to enroll in college, too.”
Other friends of Boire’s, who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, are also an inspiration.
“In many ways, I am also doing this so that I can continue to serve in their honor,” he said.
Michael Gillan, Ph.D., the co-chair for the FordhamVets Task Group and the associate vice president for the Westchester campus, said the FordhamVets program has gotten off to a great start.
Lynne O’Connell, the entry adviser for veterans who are interested in attending Fordham, said the students are transitioning into college life very well.
“Because they bring military training with them, they tend to be more disciplined and organized in making things happen and moving right into the academic portion of things,” she said.
Should veterans need extra services, they can contact O’Connell, Irene Sarno and Vito Terzulli, all of whom serve on the task group.
“The University already is set up to accommodate students with special needs,” O’Connell said. “We wanted to be very careful that we’re sensitive to veterans’ issues and needs, but that they are not segregated.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 460,000 veterans and active-duty service members are expected to use the new GI Bill nationwide this academic year, up from 368,000 last year. The new bill is expected to constitute an investment of $62 billion over the next decade.