McCarthy Introduces Bill to Provide Free High-Tech Courses to Vets
WASHINGTON – House Republican Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy says veterans need more educational opportunities that meet the demands of the fast-paced technology industry.
The California lawmaker is introducing legislation Thursday giving the Department of Veterans Affairs $75 million to start a pilot program to provide accelerated computer courses in everything from robotics and basic programming to artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
McCarthy, who is second-in-command to the House speaker, said the GI bill doesn’t cover many such courses and the VA approval process for changing curriculums or course offerings creates bureaucratic delays that are not conducive to the quickly changing technology fields.
Under his proposal, veterans, instead of going to a traditional college — or in addition to a traditional degree — could get a shorter-term nano degree or micro credential.
“And they could be in the work force right away and be a major asset,” McCarthy told USA TODAY. “So I want to provide greater flexibility there.”
Some 450,000 veterans in the United States are unemployed and 40% of them are between 18 and 44 years old, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The tech industry, meanwhile, is expected to add a half million jobs by 2024.
McCarthy’s legislation would not expand the GI bill, which provides veterans with money for school. Instead, it would expand a separate program started in 2015 under the Obama administration. That program provided free technology courses known as accelerated learning programs to veterans.
Under McCarthy’s bill, the VA would contract with companies to provide the training and pay them in installments: 25% when a veteran starts a course, 25% when the veteran finishes, and the rest when the veteran then lands a job. In addition, participating veterans would receive a housing allowance while they are in training.
McCarthy told USA TODAY that he first learned about such programs when his son, a graduate of Georgetown University, was taking a course with a company called Udacity, which provides “Nanodegrees” in web and software development, robotics, and artificial intelligence, among other fields.
McCarthy went to meet last year with the company’s founder, Sebastian Thrun, a computer science professor at Stanford University who led the development at Google of self-driving cars. Thrun founded Udacity in 2012 after offering a free online class on artificial intelligence and 160,000 students in more than 190 countries signed up.
McCarthy said he was struck by the employment opportunities that such non-traditional courses could provide to veterans.
“Think about when you’re in the military, the type of weaponry and other stuff that you use. Technology, right? They can’t go to Udacity; the GI bill doesn’t work,” he said. “And it’s not about the accreditation, it’s because if you want to get (VA) approval, you’ve got to freeze your curriculum. Well, the companies that you go to work for after Udacity, the Googles and the others, they’re changing and adapting all the time.”
He said companies like to hire graduates from the programs because they’re up-to-speed on cutting-edge technology.
McCarthy said the cost of the program is not offset in his legislation with any so-called “pay-fors” — or cuts or revenue-raisers in other areas of the federal budget.
“To me the pay-for is people are going to start getting jobs and be in the workforce,” he said.