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December 02, 2019 | In The News

Editorial: A New Wrinkle to an Innovative Program

Demographically speaking, America’s military is probably the most diverse it’s ever been. Data show that those who defend our nation today also are likely the most educated batch of troops America has ever assembled.

One study by George Washington University indicates that on average the military is better educated than the U.S. population at large. The 2013 study reported that 83% of military officers have college degrees, relative to 30% the general population. Among enlisted personnel, 94% of troops had at least a high school diploma and/or some college, compared to just 60% of Americans.

But U.S. Rep. Greg Steube has picked up on one drawback facing our increasingly educated military that also happens to plague the overall population – student loans.

The Sarasota Republican, whose district encompasses the southern half of Polk County, recently filed the Modern GI Bill Act, which would allow troops to utilize their GI Bill education benefits to pay down student loans.

Steube makes a convincing case for his measure. So, we encourage Congress to get behind it.

Steube is a veteran himself. He joined the Army after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and served four years with the 25th Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom as an infantry officer and a military lawyer.

Steube recently shared with that he harbored “significant” student loan debt from law school. He said he needed 15 years to pay that off.

“During my time in the military, I served with many others who had previously received an education and took out loans to pay for it,” Steube told “Servicemembers, like myself, who joined after they obtained their education, cannot take advantage of the GI Bill, so we should give those veterans the same amount of credit toward the student loans they incurred prior to their military service.”

“Passing this bill will help ease the financial burden facing many of our nation’s veterans,” he continued. “It will also create an incentive for those considering service who have previously incurred student loan debt.”

“As our nation’s forces modernize,” he added, “we must modernize the GI Bill to ensure we are keeping up our end of the bargain and giving our veterans the tools, they need to succeed.”

He’s correct.

The GI Bill, enacted in 1944, has been one of the federal government’s most innovative and successful programs. It made higher education accessible to millions of middle class people, primarily men, who might never have set foot on a college campus without it.

But one striking data point underscores Steube’s argument about the need to update this program.

According to Pentagon statistics, 12.2% of enlisted troops and 84.2% of officers in 2010, respectively, had at least a two-year college degree. By 2017, those numbers stood at 18.8% and 86.3%.

Meanwhile, during that period the nation’s overall college student loan debt rocketed from $811 billion to $1.39 trillion. It’s reasonable to believe that, as Stuebe contends, many troops who joined the military would be caught up in that debt explosion.

When the GI Bill was enacted 75 years ago, few could imagine that today’s college students would collectively have amassed student loan debt that roughly equals the entire federal budget for that year, in 2019 dollars.

Steube has offered a commonsense way to help our troops find relief from burdensome student loans. Two Democrats – Reps. T.J. Cox of California and Max Rose of New York – have signed on to support him. The rest of Congress should do so as well, and soon.