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With new GI Bill, a surge of veterans at colleges

More than 100,000 veterans have already been approved under the bill taking effect Saturday. Are campuses prepared?

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Anthony Brooks, a former Army corporal planning to attend USC as a pre-med in the fall under the new GI Bill, comments about his education future at his home in Santa Clarita, Calif. on June 25, 2009.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

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With provisions not only for tuition, but books and living expenses as well, waves of veterans are expected to jump at the chance to earn undergraduate or advanced degrees as the new Post-9/11 GI Bill kicks in Saturday.

Already, 112,000 have had their eligibility for benefits approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"It represents the first time since the original GI Bill where affordability is very unlikely to be a barrier as they seek the college of their choice," says Jim Selbe, who manages military programs for the American Council on Education (ACE), a higher education association in Washington.

The new GI Bill will help veteran Don Gomez complete a bachelor's degree in Middle Eastern studies at City College of New York. Since 2006, after serving in Iraq in the Army, he's been using less-generous benefits under the previous system.

"If this [new law] had not passed, I would be without benefits in October and I would have to find a way [to bridge the time] until I graduate [in May], so this is like a lifeline," he says. Under the new bill, Mr. Gomez qualifies for 12 more months of tuition and living expenses.

For colleges, the coming school year will test "whether or not they are prepared for this influx," Mr. Selbe says. A first-of-its-kind national survey released this month by ACE and several partners revealed both strengths and weaknesses in campus efforts to assist service members.

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