For many military members, a college degree is often their next tour of duty. Fortunately, there is an abundance of funding available for men and women who serve their country. The GI Bill® is the most substantial military educational benefit for the 1.3 million active-duty military service members and the 21.4 million veterans. But more funding -- separate from federal aid -- is available for military service members and veterans through colleges, nonprofits, scholarships, loans, and grants.
As of 2015, more than one million people have received GI Bill® educational benefits, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs
The GI Bill was signed into law in 1944 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help soldiers returning from World War II. As of 2015, more than one million people have received GI Bill educational benefits, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
There are several programs under the GI Bill -- including the Montgomery GI Bill® -- which is divided between active-duty and selected reserve-service members. The Montgomery GI Bill revamped the old GI Bill following the Vietnam War. More recently, the Post-9/11 GI Bill was established to help people who have 90 days or more active duty service following Sept. 10, 2001. All of these federal benefits can be used toward a college degree, correspondence courses, flight training, job training, certifications, and other many other relevant trainings.
Another resource for military students are the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges, or SOC. The SOC is a network of more than 1,900 military-friendly colleges, which cater to the needs of military families.
The Importance of Military Status
What each student receives in federal education benefits will depend on their military status. Generally service members who were honorably discharged and have a long history of active duty service will receive the maximum benefits. Here's a brief overview of how your military status impacts your benefits.
Individuals with at least two years of active duty service are eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty program, while those with a minimum of 90 aggregate days of active duty following Sept. 10, 2001 are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Enlisted service members can draw on their benefits while on active duty or after they have been honorably discharged. Active duty tuition assistance is also available.
Members of the Reserve or National Guard may be eligible for educational benefits under the GI Bill -- provided these applicants have had active duty service. The Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve is also open to members of the Selected Reserve who have enlisted for six years of service and completed the Initial Active Duty for Training.
The military recognizes five types of discharges: honorable, dishonorable, bad conduct, and general. The character of discharge determines whether or not individuals are eligible for educational benefits. Typically, to receive benefits, individuals must have been honorably discharged. In some circumstances, however, the VA approves applicants who hold other kinds of discharge.
Military veterans are defined as anyone who has served in the armed forces, and has been discharged or released. On the other hand, retirees -- also considered veterans -- are military service members who have been enlisted for about two decades or longer, and are eligible for military retirement benefits. Both retirees and veterans -- who have been honorably discharged -- are eligible for education benefits.
Government Benefits for Military Students
The Post-9/11 GI Bill®
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the newer educational benefit programs administered by the VA. This bill, signed into law in 2008, was created to provide educational funding to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, or anyone who served in the armed forces after Sept. 10, 2001. The bill was an attempt to boost military retention and recruiting efforts; to date the law has provided educational benefits to nearly 800,000 people at a cost of more than $20 billion, according to the VA.
The payout for benefits is tied to service length. Veterans who serve 36 months of active duty receive the maximum benefits, however the minimum requirement is 90 days of active-duty service. Veterans and active-duty service members are both eligible for benefits. Individuals who served 30 days and receive a disability discharge are also eligible. Qualifying applicants can get 36 months of in-state tuition and fees for public colleges; there are caps for private colleges. Money can also be used for vocational training and certifications. Additionally, active-service members may request that unused benefits be transferable to dependents or spouses under the Transfer of Entitlement Option.
The Yellow Ribbon Program, available through the Post-9/11 bill, provides additional compensation for those who need money for housing books, test fees, and travel assistance. Students attending out-of-state or private colleges are eligible to receive benefits through the Yellow Ribbon Program, while veterans who are eligible for the maximum benefit rate can also enroll.
Students can apply for the program online, by mail, in person at a regional VA office, or over the phone by calling 1-888-GI-BILL-1. The educational benefit is good for up to 15 years from one's last day of service.
The Montgomery GI Bill®
The GI Bill has had various incarnations since it was established in 1944. Named after Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. Montgomery, the Montgomery GI Bill was signed into law in 1984 to help Vietnam War vets. The Veterans Affairs oversees this program, which includes the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty and Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve. Benefits paid to eligible participants vary depending on their length of service and their contributions to the $600 buy-up program.
The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty program is open to honorably discharged service members who have at least two years of active duty, and a high school diploma or 12 college credits.
The Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve program is designed for Selected Reserve members who signed a six-year contract and completed their initial active duty for training. Education benefits include 36 months of paid tuition to a public institution. The money can also be used toward a college degree, certificate programs, vocational courses, or other educational classes. Service members have up to 10 years from their last day of service to use these benefits. Students may apply online by completing the VA Form 22-1990.
Servicemember Opportunity Colleges
For military service members who relocate frequently, life can be unpredictable, which can make earning a college degree a challenge. The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges -- or SOC -- was created in 1972 specifically with sailors in mind. Today, however, the SOC helps service members and their family, in all branches of the military, pursue a college education.
SOC is funded by the Department of Defense and run in partnership with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and DANTES. There are roughly 1,900 participating institutions in the SOC network. These military-friendly colleges cater to service members by offering military-friendly benefits such as lenient credit transfer policies, easy residency requirements, and college credit for military training. Distance learning programs are also commonly offered at SOC schools. All branches of the military -- Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Army National Guard, and Air Force -- are members of the SOC program.
What Does It Mean for a School to Be Military-Friendly?
It makes sense that military-friendly colleges compete to recruit military students, considering there are over 1.3 million active-duty service members and 21.4 million veterans. Military-friendly colleges provide the flexibility and monetary discounts that military college students need. These institutions also have distance learning programs, trained military-friendly counselors, military tuition discounts, and communities of like-minded individuals to accommodate service members. Most importantly, the savings benefits offered at military-friendly online colleges are unmatched.
Tuition Discounts for Military
A military-friendly college offer service members, their spouses, and dependents discounted tuition. Colleges either discount the price per credit hour or offer a specific percentage off tuition. To be eligible for discounts, military members typically must have been honorably discharged. It is not uncommon to also see colleges waive course materials, application fees, and technology fees for military students. Often, Christian colleges and online Christian schools offer discounted tuition rates for military service members.
All of one's military training and experience means something at military-friendly online Christian colleges, which can provide prior learning credit or transfer credits to help military college students get a degree faster. College credit is often granted for ACE-evaluated military training, and DANTES and CLEP exams. However, colleges usually require students take a minimum number of credits at that school.
Scholarships and financial aid benefits for dependents and spouses are often directly offered through the school. Unlike traditional loans, this money does not need to be repaid. Larger military-friendly colleges have veteran and military student centers to guide students, and provide more information about military scholarships offered through nonprofits and private organizations.
Military-friendly colleges have extensive networks to support military students and their family. Special military support and career counselors are often on-campus in military service centers. Math and writing assistance programs are also commonly available for students in the military.
Military-friendly colleges are more apt to offer associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in military studies or diplomacy history. Students pursuing military studies can take coursework such as military ethics, military peacekeeping, military history, and the literature of war at many military-friendly colleges.
Attending a military-friendly school is all about the flexibility of accommodating a military schedule. Military-friendly colleges online programs and online Christian colleges are understanding of the ever-changing schedule of military students. Distance learning and fully online programs with asynchronous classes are available for military students.
* GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.