Figuring out how to use your veterans education benefits, whether active duty or retired, can feel overwhelming. The first step is understanding the benefits that are available to you and how to utilize them for maximum assistance. Each program has it’s own set of requirements and benefits that are offered. The three main sources of funding are Tuition Assistance, the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Supplemental funding and services are also available through the Yellow Ribbon program, Tuition Assistance Top-Up, GI Bill Kicker, the Work Study Program, and Tutorial Assistance.
Secondary programs supplement VA education benefits for both the service members themselves and also for their families. Specific programs, such as the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship and the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program, are in place for veterans and dependents of service members who have been permanently disabled or died in the line of duty. Alliances have also been formed with universities and colleges around the country—both online and on campus—that understand the unique challenges that active duty service members and veterans face when pursuing higher education. The military also pays for College Level Examination Program (CLEP) testing to help active duty and veteran service members earn college credit for their military training and experience. Many VA education benefits exist to support and help insure the availability of affordable higher education for U.S. service members, veterans, and their families.
Tuition Assistance (TA)
Tuition Assistance (TA) is paid by the DoD and is usually the first education benefit available to military members. It is a great option for working towards a degree while serving on active duty. In both the Army and Navy, tuition assistance is available to all active duty after they complete one year at their first permanent duty station. The Marine Corps requires 24 months service before they’re able to request tuition assistance. The Air Force has no initial time requirement. Each branch also has different eligibility requirements for reservists which are detailed in the chart below.
TUITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Montgomery GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill was first implemented in 1985 and was the main education benefit for veterans until 2008. The Montgomery GI Bill has two separate components for Active Duty and for Selected Reserve. Both programs offer up to 36 months of payments paid directly to the individual rather than the institution. Qualifying education and training include:
- College & university degree programs
- Technical or vocational courses (such as HVAC repair, truck driving, EMT training, beautician school, CNA program, dental assistant training, etc.)
- Flight training
- Apprenticeships and on-the-job training (such as union work, law enforcement, fire department, etc.)
- Licensing & certification tests
Although they cover the same types of education and training, their requirements and benefits are very different.
MONTGOMERY GI BILL — ACTIVE DUTY
MONTGOMERY GI BILL — SELECTED RESERVE
Post 9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33)
The Post 9/11 GI Bill was implemented in August 2009 and marked the availability of unprecedented VA education benefits for service members, veterans, and their families who served for at least 90 days after 9/10/2001. Unlike the Montgomery GI Bill, service members do not have to make a financial contribution to enroll in the program.
Service members who already paid into the Montgomery GI Bill but elected to use Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits instead are eligible for a refund of contributions. In order to qualify for a refund the individual:
- Had to have bought into Montgomery GI Bill
- Must have relinquished Montgomery GI Bill
- Must have used all 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill
- Must be receiving a monthly housing allowance in the month that last Post 9/11 Benefits are used
- Must be the original beneficiary of both GI Bills–the benefits can’t have been transferred to children or spouse (*Refunds are only for the original $1200 contribution. The additional, optional Buy Up program is not refundable.)
POST 9/11 GI BILL
Additional Sources of Assistance
Yellow Ribbon Program
Enter The Yellow Ribbon Program. This supplemental program is designed to help cover any additional costs beyond the GI Bill. Participating schools agree to pay a portion of a student’s tuition and fees not covered by the GI Bill, allowing more students to attend out of state schools or private universities. The VA then matches dollar for dollar the contribution by the college or university.
Each participating school reaches an individual agreement with the VA and has limits that dictate the number of students able to participate and the total financial cap for the program annually. Each year a newly revised list is released in June detailing the specifics for participating colleges and universities. View the current list of participating Yellow Ribbon online schools to check the benefits offered by a school before enrolling.
Some Yellow Ribbon schools also offer discounted tuition to active duty service members and veterans. Capella University, for example, offers a 15% discount on undergraduate programs and a 10% discount on graduate programs. They also offer transfer credit for military training and on-the-job experience, flexible leave of absence policies, and programs that benefit military spouses.
Each school reassess the program funding annually. This means the funding is not guaranteed and must be renewed each year. Also, keep in mind that The Yellow Ribbon Program is not available while on active duty or to spouses to whom benefits have been transferred. The program may be utilized by an eligible veteran or by a child with transferred benefits only if they have earned maximum Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits by serving at least 36 months after 9/10/2001.
Tuition Assistance Top Up
For example, if you were to take two semester long 3 credit courses (6 credits total) at $300/credit hour, Tuition Assistance would pay a total of $1500 for that course leaving you with $300 that you are responsible for. If you used the Top Up program under the Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay the difference, you would be classified as attending school ½ time and be charged 2 months of GI Bill entitlement. Semester long courses are typically 4 months, but because you are attending school only half time, you are only charged 2 months. This means that you are using 2 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits but actually only receiving $300 worth of GI Bill benefits.
If you plan to complete your degree largely through Tuition Assistance while on active duty and do not plan to continue your education after separation from the military, Top Up may be a good option to reduce out of pocket expenses. If you plan to continue to use your GI Bill as a veteran, it is probably best to save your benefits for future, higher college expenses. Keep in mind that even if you don’t plan to use education benefits in the future for yourself, you have the option of transferring the benefits to your spouse or children which may save you more money in the long run when compared with the dollar amount you save using the Top Up program.
GI Bill Kicker
Overall, the GI Bill Kicker can increase the monthly benefit payment up to $950/month which is paid directly to you. Because the Post 9/11 GI Bill funds are paid directly to the school, you must qualify for the housing allowance payment to receive these additional funds if using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. In this case, the additional benefit will be added to your monthly housing allowance payment. If using the Montgomery GI Bill, the GI Bill Kicker funds will also be included in your monthly payment.
Work Study Program
- VA paperwork at schools
- VA paperwork at VA offices or facilities
- VA outreach services within the community or school
- Performing services at VA medical facilities
- Post 9/11 GI Bill
- Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty
- Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance
Survivors’ and Dependents’ Benefits
The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship
Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA)
Collaboration Between the Military & Colleges
The military has partnered with colleges and universities to facilitate affordable and timely degree or certificate completion for it’s service members and their spouses and adult children.
Service Members Opportunity Colleges
Colleges and universities within the network also evaluate the student’s military training and courses and may grant college credit for this experience. This is a great option for individuals who have gained technical knowledge and skill in their military career, but need academic credentials to obtain civilian employment after military service. Many of the courses taught within the SOC network are available through distance learning which helps service members who are unable to attend in a traditional classroom setting.
When participating in the SOC, the student completes a student contract which outlines goals and requirements for degree completion and takes into consideration a service member’s military training. This agreement protects students from degree requirement changes and from being penalized for service related interruptions of academic studies. If the service member does not reach degree completion before discharge, the student contract is still valid and the student may continue to take advantage of the program.
Some schools, like Western Governors University, also offers multiple scholarships to active-duty or veteran students, as well as their family members. Awards are generally between $1,500 and $5,000.
Principles of Excellence
- Provide each student with personalized information regarding the total cost of their education program
- Provide an education plan, including a timeline, to military and veteran students receiving education benefits
- Stop all fraudulent recruiting and misrepresentation directed at military personnel and veterans
- Provide accommodations for military members and reservists whose studies are interrupted due to a service requirement
- Designate a Point of Contact for the student to receive academic and financial advising throughout their course of study
- Secure accreditation of programs before enrolling students
- Abide by refund policies regarding Federal student financial aid
College Credit for Military Experience
The JST also lists any CLEP or DSST exams taken by the individual. These are both college level, subject specific tests that can be taken to earn college credit. There are 33 introductory level CLEP exams and 38 DSST subject exams. The exam fee for both types of tests is $80 each and typically earns 3 credit hours with a passing score (some CLEP exams award higher credit hours). CLEP credit hours are accepted at 2,900 colleges and universities and DSST credits are accepted at over 1,900 colleges and universities. These tests can significantly reduce the overall cost of a college degree and can even be paid for with education benefits! Active Duty service members from all branches can use their benefits for 1 attempt per exam title. (This test fee reimbursement benefit is not available to veterans, spouses, or dependents.)
Keep in mind though that using your GI Bill for test fee reimbursement charges your total entitlement. For the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the dollar amount of the test is rounded to the charge for a full month, so an $80 test will charge one full month to your VA education entitlement. It may be more economical to pay for the exam out of pocket and save your VA entitlement for more expensive courses. You can search by institution to find out which CLEP exams are accepted at a particular school. You can also view schools that accept DSST exams.
Top Online Colleges for Veterans & Military
Southern New Hampshire University
Accreditations: ACBSP, CAEP, CAHIIM, CCNE, NEASC
Tuition: $225-$627 per credit hour
Programs: Military Tuition Assistance, Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon Program
Southern New Hampshire University has over 80,000 students enrolled in their innovative, dynamic online educational programs. For military students, they offer a team of dedicated advisors, a wide variety of benefits and discounts, and partnerships with the USO, Operation Homefront, WT3, and other organizations that serve the needs of veterans and their families.
Grand Canyon University
Accreditations: ACBSP, CAATE, CCNE, HLC
Tuition: $355-$640 per credit hour
Programs: Military Tuition Assistance, Yellow Ribbon Program
To better help military students find lucrative careers, Grand Canyon University provides online degree programs in highly sought-after fields like business, public safety, justice students, nursing, and more. Many of these programs are offered in partnership with the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges organization for greater flexibility and streamlined credit transfers.
University of Massachusetts – Lowell
Accreditations: AACSB, ABET, CAMPEP, CAPTE, CCNE, EHAC, NAACL, NASAD, NASM, NCATE, NEASC
Tuition: $380-$655 per credit hour
Programs: Military Tuition Assistance, Post-9/11 GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation
Recognized as a “Best for Vets” school by Military Times, the University of Massachusetts – Lowell offers a wide range of benefits, services, and programs designed to help active and veteran military students achieve success in their academic and career endeavors. A nationally ranked public research university, this school is notable for having one of the highest returns on investment for graduates.
How are VA Education Benefits Measured?
For example, if a school semester begins on August 21st and ends on December 14th, the individual’s VA entitlement will be charged 3 months and 24 days if the student is attending at a full time rate. The VA uses the average of 30 days regardless of how many days are actually in a month. This means in this example the entitlement is charged 10 days for August 21st – August 30th, 1 month for September, 1 month for October, 1 month for November and 14 days for December 1st through 14th. If a student is attending at less than a full time rate, the entitlement will be charged proportionately.