About 1.3 million Americans serve in the combined U.S. military armed forces, with an additional 800,000 in the reserve forces. Additionally, there are around 20.4 million veterans in the country, with 7.1 million Gulf War veterans accounting for the majority. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill of Rights on June 22, 1944, to provide educational, housing, and unemployment assistance to returning World War II veterans. Since then, millions of veterans have used the educational benefits administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In fact, from 2000 to 2016, more than 11 million veterans and their dependents benefited from these programs.
Several military-friendly colleges and universities throughout the country help veterans and active members access the educational and training benefits of VA programs, and some offer additional funding opportunities independent of federal programs. The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) provides education benefits to veterans and service members with at least two years of active duty. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is reserved for members who served on active duty after September 10, 2001. An association of roughly 1,900 schools known as Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) provides and coordinates educational opportunities for military members and their dependents.
The Importance of Military Status
A service member’s military status is among the primary factors that impact eligibility for a program and the benefits to which they are entitled.
- Active-Duty Military: These are military service members who serve full time. The length of service varies, usually from two to six years between reenlistment periods. Active-duty military members may be entitled to tuition assistance and the benefits offered under the MGIB-AD program.
- Inactive-Duty Military: Inactive-duty service members belong to the reserve units of each armed military branch and the National Guard. They are not full-time service members, but are required to undergo training at regular intervals. They are entitled to the education benefits under the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP).
- Discharged: Veterans with an honorable discharge are entitled to education benefits from the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 Bill. Veterans with a general or under honorable conditions discharge can use education benefits from other programs, such as the DEA (Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance). Military service members with a dishonorable discharge are typically not entitled to any benefits after leaving the service.
- Retired/Veteran: Retired service members are those who file for retirement after at least 20 years of military service. They are entitled to the same benefits as veterans, as well as benefits reserved for retired service members. Veterans are service members who were honorably discharged after completing their service obligation but who are not yet retired. They are entitled to the education benefits of the bill that covers the period of their service.
Government Benefits for Military Students
The Post-9/11 GI Bill
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers the Post-9/11 GI Bill for active-duty service members or service members with at least 90 days of active duty after September 10, 2001. Honorably-discharged veterans or veterans with a service-related disability may also qualify for benefits under this bill, as long as they served at least 30 days prior to their discharge. Eligible service members typically receive up to 36 months of entitlement benefits under this bill. Benefits include up to 100% paid tuition, a monthly housing stipend, and up to $1,000 per year for books and materials. Benefits decrease in proportion to lower service length. Service members are eligible for benefits up to 15 years from their discharge or their last period of valid active duty.
Education benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill may be applied to many educational pursuits, including undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational or non-college programs, flight school, independent and distance learning, and entrepreneurship training. Unlike the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer unused benefits to their spouse or dependents.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill usually covers in-state or public university tuition; however, it may not be sufficient to cover out-of-state or private school tuition. In this case, service members can apply for additional funding under the Yellow Ribbon Program. There are different ways to apply for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, including online, in-person at a VA office, or through the mail.
The Montgomery GI Bill
The VA administers the Montgomery GI Bill program. The MGIB-AD is for active-duty service members. Eligibility for the MGIB-AD is complex; however, all service members must receive an honorable discharge, complete high school or an equivalency program, serve at least two years on active duty, and contribute $100 a month for the first 12 months on active duty. Service members can receive up to 36 months of education benefits and they have up to 10 years from their honorable discharge or completion of service contract to use these benefits. MGIB-AD benefits are used for the same type of education and training programs that are acceptable under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Several public and private institutions are military-friendly colleges with personnel who can assist service members in accessing the MGIB education benefits. There are also military-friendly colleges online. To start the application process, service members should visit the VA website.
Servicemember Opportunity Colleges
There are several military-friendly colleges and universities that participate in VA programs to help service members access education benefits for which they qualify. There are also military-friendly online colleges with a similar purpose. Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) is an association of approximately 1,900 colleges and universities created and funded by the Department of Defense to ensure that service members and their dependents receive ample educational opportunities during and after their term of service. The program is coordinated through the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, or DANTES. Under SOC, each military sector, plus the Coast Guard, has several enrolled colleges near military bases around the country and throughout the world. These colleges offer associate and bachelor’s degrees and accept credits from the other colleges in the SOC program, which means service members enrolled in any of these colleges can transfer their credits without difficulty when they must switch schools because of a transfer.
What Does It Mean for a School to Be Military-Friendly?
The VA does not formally designate a school to be a military-friendly college or university. That distinction often comes from private ranking organizations or publications that invite schools to participate in their survey to earn the military-friendly college designation. Service members who wish to earn their degree at a military-friendly college or university should evaluate their prospective schools according to the aspects listed below. This holds true for students who are seeking an on-campus or online counseling degree.
- Tuition Discounts For Military: The education benefits of a service member’s GI Bill may not always cover the tuition of a private college or university. In response, military-friendly colleges offer tuition discounts or top-off amounts to be more accessible for service members.
- Credit Opportunities: Some military-friendly colleges credit a service member’s past relevant professional experience towards a degree. Additionally, recognizing that many service members move around a lot, military-friendly colleges have transfer policies that accommodate this situation.
- Financial Aid: Military-friendly colleges and universities offer scholarship opportunities that are reserved for service members and their dependents. Schools often source these funds from foundations, professional organizations, or private benefactors. Some military-friendly online colleges offer these types of scholarships as well.
- On-Campus Benefits: Military-friendly colleges offer service members opportunities to enhance their on-campus learning through student organizations that support their interests. Some schools also offer service members discounts for on-campus housing and counseling services geared towards a service member’s unique background and circumstances.
- Academic Programs: Some military-friendly colleges offer courses and programs that target service members. For instance, the William James College in Massachusetts offers post-bachelor’s degrees in counseling with an emphasis on military and veterans psychology. The typical curriculum for such programs often cover topics that are particularly relevant to service members, such as military psychology and culture.
- Flexibility: Service members pursuing an online counseling degree will find several military-friendly online colleges that offer this degree. Some online counseling programs have on-campus components, while other programs are completed entirely online. Military-friendly schools offer this type of flexibility in response to the uncertain schedules of service members.