GI Stories

Adam McKeown
Assistant Professor, Department of English
Adelphi University

Quantico, 1992
When I was a Second Lieutenant at the Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, back in 1992, our platoon commander told us that for $100 dollar per month for a year we could pay into the Montgomery GI Bill, and that would be, he said, "the best investment you will ever make." We were all around 22 or 23--all of us had just graduated from college. If more education were in our future, it was hiding behind at least four years in the Marine Corps. If it was not the last thing on our minds, it was pretty close--and $100 per month is a lot of money to people just starting out. But I paid in--maybe just so I didn't have to explain why I didn't want to. But four years later I was in graduate school, and that $1200 I had paid when I was a Second Lieutenant had turned into almost $500 a month for the eight months a year I was in school. For someone trying to make it at NYU on a graduate student stipend, $500 per month was the difference between paying the rent and not.
Operation Enduring Freedom, Djibouti, 2005

But even back then, the GI Bill was not enough. It didn't touch tuition at all and barely scratched New York City rents. Acquiring the money was time-consuming, and I had to spend at least two hours a month waiting on hold to talk to someone at the Veterans' Administration. I couldn't really complain about a return of 10 times my original investment, but I remember wondering during those years if the GI Bill had not once been better. I mean, I was told the GI Bill changed the future for World War II veterans. For me, it was $500 less a month I had to beg or borrow, but it wasn't life changing.

Since then, the cost of housing and tuition has more than doubled in many places, and while the GI Bill has also increased its monthly payout to over $1000, it does not make college or graduate school available for anyone who cannot cover the costs themselves. There can be no doubt that $1000 per month for eight months of the year makes things easier, but with the average cost of a private college education rising to over $22K, the average veteran has to figure out where to find the $14K that the GI Bill doesn't cover. That's a lot of money--more than most veterans have.

I was lucky. NYU offered me a tuition remission at the beginning of my second year--when I had spent my life savings on tuition. If it weren't for that stroke of fortune, I would not have been able to continue studying, with or without the GI Bill. It wasn't enough then, and it certainly isn't enough now.

Adam McKeown remains an active Marine and a highly-respected member of Adelphi's faculty. Read a Newsletter article (PDF 252 KB) detailing his accomplishments as both a professor and a member of the military.

This page was last modified on March 5, 2014.
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