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WASHINGTON -- The number of veterans enrolled in American colleges has risen sharply, thanks in large part to the most substantial GI Bill since World War II.

Within the last year, over half a million former military students applied for GI Bill eligibility and more than 300,000 of them applied to the new benefits to enroll in college or graduate school. Surveys have shown that about a quarter of these new recipients said the new GI Bill drove their decision to enroll in higher education.

Under the new GI Bill, the Veteran's Administration pays tuition and fees directly to colleges, rather than to veterans. The VA pays students a separate stipend for books and living expenses.

GI Bill benefits are available to any veteran who served in the military after Sept. 11, 2001. Veterans can use the benefit to attend private colleges as long as the school splits the difference of the cost of a public college with the Veteran's Administration.

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