Defense Issues: Volume 11, Number 20-- Preserving Educational Benefits in the All-volunteer Force The GI Bill was born as a transition tool for a conscript military following World War II. Today, it's one of the U.S. armed forces' most powerful recruiting and retention tools.
Volume 11, Number 20
Preserving Educational Benefits in the All-volunteer Force
Prepared statements of Army Lt. Gen. Samuel E. Ebbesen, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, and Al Bemis, deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve manpower and personnel, before the Education, Training, Employment and Housing Subcommittee, House Veterans Affairs Committee, March 7, 1996.
Ebbsen. I am pleased to appear before you today in the first year of the second decade of the Montgomery GI Bill to discuss this vital program. There is little doubt that the MGIB has met or exceeded the expectations of its sponsors and has been a major contributor to the success of the all-volunteer force.
The original GI Bill of Rights, created at the end of World War II, gave returning service members a comprehensive package of benefits to compensate for opportunities lost while in the military and to ease their transition back into civilian life. We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of this legislation. The noted economist Peter Drucker described the GI Bill by saying, "Future historians may consider it the most important event of the 20th century." Perhaps the most far-reaching provision of the GI Bill was the financial assistance it made available for veterans to attend college.
Today's MGIB traces its lineage directly to this milestone program, with one important change. While all earlier GI Bill programs were designed to ease the transition to civilian life from a conscripted military force, since 1973, we have defended this nation with volunteers.
Thus, the MGIB has as one of its purposes "to promote and assist the all-volunteer force program and the Total Force concept of the armed forces by establishing a new program of educational assistance based upon service on active duty or a combination of service on active duty and in the Selected Reserve to aid in the recruitment and retention of highly qualified personnel for both the active and reserve components of the armed forces."
So the MGIB is not only designed to aid in recruiting, but also for the first time recognizes the vital role of the reserve components in our defense and extends educational benefits to these itizen-service members." My testimony will cover the MGIB for active service. Mr. Al Bemis, deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve manpower and personnel, will discuss the MGIB for the Selected Reserve.
The department continues to be successful both in the number and quality of accessions. During FY [fiscal year] 1995, all services met their recruiting objectives, accessing 168,010 first-time enlistees with excellent recruit quality. Ninety-six percent of new recruits were high school diploma graduates, compared with 93 percent in 1985, the first year of the MGIB.
Even more dramatic is the change in above-average aptitude recruits (Categories I-IIIA): 71 percent of new recruits scored above average on the enlistment test in FY 1995, compared with 62 percent in 1985. Moreover, in FY 1985, 7 percent of new recruits scored in the lowest acceptable aptitude category (Category IV); in FY 1995, we accessed fewer than 1 percent in this category.
Through the first four months of FY 1996, the services met their numeric goals, and the quality of enlisted accessions remained high. Ninety-five percent of new recruits were high school diploma graduates, while 68 percent scored above average on the enlistment test. Incentive programs, such as the Montgomery GI Bill, are vital to our success in attracting bright and well educated people into the military.
The Montgomery GI Bill enrollment rates have continued to rise each year since its inception, with 95 percent of eligible recruits choosing to enroll in FY 1995. Enrollment in the active duty program has risen from only 50 percent in the first year, 1985, to the current 95 percent. A total of 2 million men and women from an eligible pool of 2.7 million have chosen to participate in the MGIB since July 1, 1985. Such participation rates clearly demonstrate the attractiveness of the Montgomery GI Bill.
To ensure enlistees fully understand the structure and benefits of the program, and the requirement to disenroll if electing not to participate, they are briefed at military entrance processing stations during in-processing and again at recruit training. It is here, within two weeks after enlistment, that the final decision is made whether to participate in the Montgomery GI Bill program. Finally, at separation, eligible individuals again are briefed on the MGIB and encouraged to take advantage of the educational opportunities it provides.
The 1990s saw America's armed forces facing a significant reduction in size as the Cold War ended. Unfortunately, as with any major strength reduction, the lives and career expectations of many in the work force became uncertain. However, unlike the last major drawdown of forces after Vietnam, we wanted to ensure that all affected service members were treated with the respect, dignity and appreciation they deserved. Your subcommittee was instrumental in this with the extension of MGIB eligibility to those who either chose to leave service voluntarily or were involuntarily separated as a result of the drawdown.
Those individuals participating in the Voluntary Separation Incentive and Special Separation Benefit programs were offered the opportunity to participate in the Montgomery GI Bill if they had not previously enrolled during their initial enlistment. In all, over 41,000 separating service members have taken advantage of this opportunity. Over 18,000 service members separating under VSI or SSB enrolled in the MGIB program, and over 11,000 of them have gone on to use their benefit. Of the service members involuntarily separated since February 1991, over 23,000 have enrolled in the MGIB.
The following figure presents the percent of average four-year college costs offset for each of the years the Montgomery GI Bill has been in effect. The offset declined from nearly 97 percent of the cost of tuition and fees in school year 1985-86 to 70 percent by school year 1993-94, as average annual tuition and fees for a four-year program rose by 43 percent. With the early 1990s increase in MGIB benefits from $300 to $400 per month and the provision to annually adjust the benefit for inflation, the offset has leveled after reaching a low in school year 1990-91.
Given our recent recruiting successes, current basic benefits appear to be adequate as an enlistment incentive. However, if college costs, especially tuition and fees, continue to rise significantly above inflation, the offset provided by the Montgomery GI Bill benefits will require close monitoring to keep the program competitive. Recognizing the tight resource climate we all face, we welcome the opportunity to work with your subcommittee to seek innovative ways to keep the existing MGIB stipend at satisfactory levels both to attract new recruits and to help pay for a college education.
The department is making attempts to maximize existing educational programs, which are used during service as an effort to give separating service members a "leg-up" on their educational goals. As part of its off-duty voluntary education effort, the department operates a number of programs that allow service members to receive academic credit without enrolling in traditional college and university courses. Two of these programs, the Military Evaluations Program and the Examinations Program, produce college credit at considerable cost savings to both the service member and the government.
Under the Military Evaluations Program, the American Council on Education, under contract with the department, develops recommendations for the award of college credit based on its evaluation of military training (formal courses and on-the-job training) and work experience. These recommendations are published in the "Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Forces," commonly referred to as the ACE Guide.
Many colleges and universities award college credit based on these recommendations. For example, the guide recommends three semester hours in supply management, three semester hours in clerical procedures and one semester hour in interpersonal communication for a sailor attending the Navy's eight-week storekeeper class-A course. For an Army information systems operator separating at the completion of one term of service, the guide recommends three semester hours in introduction to computers and computing and three semester hours in introduction to computer operations.
The Examinations Program provides service members with a means of earning college credit through college placement testing. Through contracts with the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, tests in more than 100 academic subjects are available to service members at no cost. Colleges and universities grant academic credit based on acceptable scores on these tests. Credits earned through testing cost considerably less than if earned in resident courses for which tuition would be paid. For example, one $35 test could produce the same three credits that might otherwise cost $300 or more in tuition.
The above programs effectively maximize the limited dollars available for helping service members achieve academic advancement and earn college degrees. Service members are counseled to take full advantage of these programs.
The continued success experienced with the Montgomery GI Bill is in large part the result of emphasis placed on the program by service recruiters, to include military advertising, and recognition across the nation that education plays a vital role in today's workplace. Montgomery GI Bill information continues to be prominently featured in our direct mail recruiting literature.
Every 18-year-old male who registers with the Selective Service System receives a full-color information brochure explaining the benefits of the MGIB program. Approximately 1.8 million young men are reached in this manner each year. An expanded version of the brochure is distributed to the services for use at recruiting stations and also is provided to high school guidance counselors.
Another important advertising initiative was a painting by Michael J. Deas, a now-prominent artist who is best known for his rendition of Marilyn Monroe on a U.S. postage stamp. The painting, which has been made into both a print advertisement and a poster to be displayed by recruiters in their stations, depicts Uncle Sam with the tagline, "If You Can't Get Money For College From Your Parents, Get It From Your Uncle".
We also produce and distribute a magazine for use by high school seniors and guidance counselors which contains the new MGIB Uncle Sam print advertisement and individual ads from each of the services. The magazine, called "Futures," is mailed to 3.3 million students and over 21,000 guidance counselors every year.
In the past, this subcommittee has expressed concern about the timeliness and accuracy of automated data flow between the services, the Defense Manpower Data Center and the Department of Veterans Affairs. We recognize that data accuracy is a key objective of smooth payment to veterans.
Two years ago, when over 15 percent of the records in the MGIB data base did not contain sufficient information to identify participants' eligibility, we told you we had established a goal of reducing the "unknowns" rate to less than 5 percent. This was an ambitious goal, but as of January 1996, only 3.5 percent of MGIB records are coded "unknown."
Data exchanges, such as the one between DMDC and DVA are regulated by the various provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974, including subsequent amendments dealing with computer matching. There is a significant administrative burden associated with the need to frequently renegotiate matching agreements between and among agencies for programs which are long-term and continuing. Increasing the life of a matching agreement from 18 months with one 12-month renewal to perhaps a number of 12-month renewals would significantly decrease administrative burden for this and other similar programs.
Before I conclude, I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Congressman G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery, the man for whom the MGIB was named. With his pending retirement from Congress, this may well be his last formal hearing on the MGIB, and I believe it imperative to let him know how grateful we have been for his support. In July 1995, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry presented Mr. Montgomery with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in a ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the MGIB. I would like to read the citation from this award into the record:
"The Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service is awarded to G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery for exceptionally distinguished service to the Department of Defense and the military services as the sponsor and proponent of the Montgomery GI Bill, from July 1985 through July 1995.
"Mr. Montgomery's commitment to this legislation grew from his recognition that the military services faced enormous difficulty in recruiting during the early years of the all-volunteer force. He drafted, sponsored and ensured passage of this sweeping educational program which was designed to enhance the ability of the armed services to recruit and retain high-quality people, while at the same time assisting in the readjustment of former service members to civilian life.
"The resultant program became the Department of Defense's most effective recruiting tool. Nearly 2 million active duty military personnel and 360,000 Selected Reservists have participated since enactment. The quality of recruits entering active duty was exceptional. The proportion of recruits with above-average aptitude who also held a high school diploma expanded from about half to nearly two-thirds of the enlistees -- an extraordinary accomplishment that is substantially attributable to Mr. Montgomery and the modern GI Bill he created.
"Mr. Montgomery's vision in conceiving this program, coupled with his tenacity in ensuring enactment, represents the highest traditions of government and public service and reflects great credit upon himself, the Department of Defense and the Congress of the United States. For these and his many other contributions in support of America's armed forces, I take great pleasure in presenting G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service."
Mr. Chairman, I thank you, our armed forces thank you, and America's youth thanks you.
Significant improvements have been made in military manpower over the past 10 years. Today, our volunteer military stands ready, willing and able to defend our nation and its values and principles around the world. Credit for success in attracting and retaining high quality personnel belongs in no small part to Congress and this subcommittee for providing us with the MGIB program. Largely as a result of the MGIB, we have been able to increase and then sustain recruit quality despite a shrinking pool of eligible youth in a period of fiscal austerity.
Bemis. ... The Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve is a noncontributory program that provides educational assistance to Selected Reserve members who enlist, re-enlist or agree to serve in the Selected Reserve for six years. To qualify for benefits, members must have completed requirements for award of a high school diploma before completing their initial entry training.
To be eligible for educational assistance under the vocational or technical programs, the enlistment, re-enlistment or agreement to serve must be on or after Oct. 1, 1990. Those who continue their service in the Selected Reserve have up to 10 years within which to use the entitlement. Benefits are payable for as long as 36 months of education at the rate of $197.90 per month for full-time pursuit.
Unlike previous GI Bill programs and the Montgomery GI Bill for the active components, the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve provides for receipt of benefits before the qualifying military service is completed. Also, unlike the previous GI Bill, the reserve program is a recruiting and retention tool.
Evidence of this program's effectiveness is reflected in high overall participation. During fiscal year 1995, more than 97,000 Selected Reservists received Montgomery GI Bill educational benefits. Since the inception of the program, 378,000 National Guard members and reservists have applied for educational assistance.
Studies conducted by the Sixth Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation and the Rand Corp. confirms that the MGIB-SR continues to be one of the most important recruiting and retention incentives for the reserve components. It has been particularly important with respect to retention. Information collected during the 1986 DoD Reserve Components Survey indicated that the Montgomery GI Bill was a major or moderate contributing factor for remaining in the Guard and Reserves for 40.4 percent of the service members. In the 1992 DoD Reserve Components Survey, that percentage had risen to 48.2.
Despite the expenditure and recipient growth, the value of the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve in covering college tuition and fees has declined since it was first offered to our service members. In 1996 dollars, the percent of offset in total education costs has dropped from 23 percent in school year 1985-86 to 18 percent for school year 1993-94. The percentage for tuition and fees has decreased from 45 percent of a student's bill in school year 1985-86 to 33 percent of the cost in school year 1993-94.
While we are talking about the recruitment value of the MGIB-SR, I want to thank the Congress for including the two "kicker" programs in the 1996 Defense Authorization Act. This legislation allows for payment of a "kicker" up to $350 per month for Selected Reservists in addition to their MGIB-SR benefits if they are serving in critical specialties or units as designated by the service secretaries. A "kicker" of up to $350 was also authorized to be given in conjunction with the active duty Montgomery GI Bill to service members who have separated from active service and have affiliated with the Selected Reserve in a designated critical unit or specialty.
We have begun working with the services on an implementation plan for these "kickers." Important items for this working group to address in the plan are establishment of critical units or specialties, consideration of levels or bands for kicker payment amounts, and identification of funding for the service budgets. We anticipate a trial period beginning in fiscal year 1997 with full implementation in fiscal year 1998.
To supplement the recruitment value of the MGIB-SR, the reserve components have been strong supporters of nontraditional education programs. Because the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve program does not meet the full costs of education, these programs have been very important in stretching the Reservist's education dollar.
In May 1994, the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, Ms. Deborah Lee, formed the Reserve Component Education Panel. The panel's charter was to help focus program efforts that can be most beneficial to the reserve components by enhancing awareness of Defense Activity for Nontraditional Educational Support Activity educational opportunities and access to these opportunities. The panel meets twice a year.
DANTES is a great friend of reservists. It has offered them support equal to that of active duty members. The services and service members, through awareness programs generated by the RCEP, have realized significant benefits through the voluntary education services such as DANTES credit by examination and credit by evaluation. These time-saving programs are successful methods of cost avoidance through accelerating a student's academic progress by awarding credit for what the student already knows.
In 1995, the Florida Pilot Testing Program was begun, which authorized all Selected Reservists in Florida to take the DANTES Standard Subject Tests or the College Level Examination Program exams at approximately 25 National Testing Centers at participating colleges and universities in that state. This allowed reservists to drive to the nearest NTC instead of being forced to travel to a distant reserve education center for the exams.
The service member is required to pay an $8 fee to the NTC, and DANTES pays for the exam. This test program will extend through December 1996, when it will be evaluated to determine if it should be continued or expanded. Use of NTC helps to maximize the educational assistance available to reservists, but it still does not help the reservists keep up with the rapidly rising cost of education.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Congress for extending the deadline for the MGIB-SR annual report. This will grant us more time to collect the end-of-year data needed for review and analysis. The final result will be a better evaluation of the MGIB-SR program and the opportunity to provide you and the services with a better report of the evaluation.
I thank you again for this opportunity to discuss this vital recruiting and retention tool for our reserve components.
Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/index.html.