Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Behind the Scenes in Veterans Education in Illinois

Many people have called and written asking me “what in the world happened at U of I?” with the veterans’ scholarship program.

It’s been written about in blogs, the Daily Illini college newspaper, Christian Science Monitor and recently by the Associated Press. How could a program which had the support of a Lt. Governor, a US Congressman and US Defense Secretary have gone so wrong?

There are a couple good briefs on the issue. David Mercer from the AP wrote an article covered by Army Times at http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/03/apvetscholarship070312/ and John Ruberry (aka Marathon Pundit) wrote a comprehensive piece at http://marathonpundit.blogspot.com/2007_02_01_archive.html#984910302326183139.

What happened will be a great case study in organizational behavior someday, but my real focus the past several months has been working on the root cause of the problem – the design and implementation of veteran education policy in Illinois – while figuring out how to pay the bills as a single dad with three girls.

I've shared a 501(c)3 not-for-profit proposal, including participation from universities, businesses and government, with Congressmen Rahm Emanuel and Mark Kirk. It's a different way of looking at veterans as adult learners with special capabilities that don't fit neatly into the typical academic environment. While doing my research for the proposal, I've uncovered startling facts about the under-utilization of the GI Bill. US Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Emanuel have proposed the Welcome Home GI Bill - interesting reading at http://durbin.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=237571.

Perhaps now is a good time to explain what happened at University of Illinois as a way of bringing attention to the issue of veterans' education in our state before it turns into a Walter Reed-type crisis in the near future. The attitudes and biases of our academic institutions, as reflected in U of I's behavior, bode poorly for veterans. If we can't make it happen with our flagship public university in Illinois - probably the most veteran-friendly state in the country - veterans' education is in a heap of trouble shortly when the troops start coming home in large numbers.

I'll be sharing my ideas shortly.

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