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Military Education Benefits

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Next to a love of country, a major draw to joining the military is the education benefits. The Servicemember’s Readjustment Act of 1944 expanded the American middle class by offering returning World War II veterans a chance to get a college education.
Education benefits for the military

Today, service members are still using those same education benefits they’ve earned through service. They aspire to be the first member of their family to attend college, earn an advanced degree, or learn a skilled trade.

This article will discuss some of the basic military education benefits available to veterans and those who are in uniform today, while informing the next generation of American service members.

The Montgomery and Post 9-11 GI Bill

The most recognized military education benefit is the Montgomery GI Bill and its successor, the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Beginning in 1944, the GI Bill offered service members the financial aid they needed to attend institutes of higher learning. There have been some changes to the original GI Bill. Today, however, veterans can pursue a trade degree, bachelors, or masters degree. They can even learn to fly by using their GI Bill education benefits.

The Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill are for active duty members. Reservists and National Guard members can use the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR).

The primary difference between the Montgomery and Post-9/11 bill is cost. Service members must pay into the Montgomery bill to receive education benefits. Soldiers pay $100 a month for 12 months. Then they are eligible to receive education funds under the Montgomery GI Bill.

After 9/11, Congress passed a new GI Bill that did not require military members to pay into the system. Rather, after an initial qualifying period, they became eligible for more financial aid with each passing year of service.

Check out this great chart from Military.com comparing the benefits of the Post-9/11, Montgomery, and the MGIB-SR. I will focus on the Post-9/11 GI Bill as it applies to all active duty veterans and current service members who joined the military after September 11, 2001.

Eligibility

To qualify for the full Post-9/11 GI Bill I will need to serve an aggregate of 36 months on active duty. I am also eligible if I receive a service-injury related discharge after serving at least 30 days on active duty. Active duty service members can use the GI Bill, but they will not receive the housing and book stipend offered to those out of uniform.

Financial Benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill

Tuition

The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers 100% of in-state tuition at any public university if I served at least 36 months on active duty or meet the alternate eligibility requirements. If I want to attend a private university, the federal cap on the academic year is $22,805.34. Non-resident, public university students have the same cap. If I serve less than 36 months, my benefits start to decrease.

I have illustrated this in the chart below. If I serve 18 months on active duty, the GI Bill will cover 70% of my public university tuition, and $15,963 of private college tuition, each academic year, for up to 36 months of benefits.

If annual tuition exceeds the annual cap, the Yellow Ribbon program can reduce or cover out-of-pocket fees for non-resident students and those attending private institutions. Yellow Ribbon schools offer added education dollars to students in exchange for more financial aid from the Department of Veteran’s affairs. Click here to see all Yellow Ribbon Program schools for the 2017-2018 school year.

Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits (Private Institution or Non-resident Public Institution)
Service Period Percentage of 2017 Annual Cap Dollar Amount
36 Months 100% $22,805.34
30 – 35 Months 90% $20,524.80
24 – 29 Months 80% $18,244.27
18 – 23 Months 70% $15,963.74
12 – 17 Months 60% $13,683.20
6 – 11 Months 50% $11,402.67
90 Days – 5 Months 40% $9,122.14

Remember, the GI Bill will cover up to 100% of in-state tuition at public universities. For active duty Montgomery GI Bill rates, go here.

Benefit Time Caps

The GI Bill gives everyone 36 months of tuition and housing benefits. As you can see above, the time you serve affects how much you will receive, but not how long you are eligible to receive them. For all three forms of the GI Bill, each one will max out at 36 months of benefits. This means I can attend school for three uninterrupted years, or spread out my education benefit over a longer period. I need not use all my GI Bill within the 36-month period once I start; this simply means I have 36 cumulative months of paid benefits to pursue higher education.

Post-9/11 Covers Housing Costs and Books

The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers veterans pays the user a monthly housing stipend. The Basic Allowance for Housing stipend or Monthly Housing Allowance, is an active duty benefit. Service members the benefit receive each month to offset the cost of housing in an and around military installations. Students using the 9/11 GI Bill receive a monthly BAH payment for their resident zip code (the exact amount varies across the USA) while they are attending school. This means veterans can worry less about working a full-time job and going to school full time. Instead, it is more feasible to work part time and attend school full time with little to no debt at the end of their college career.

The BAH is equivalent to that of an E-5 in the military – a sergeant. I have linked to the military’s locality BAH calculator here. Enter your residence zip code and E-5 to get an exact picture of what your monthly housing stipend will be while you are using your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

The book stipend tops out at $1,000 a year. If you enroll full time, you will receive the full amount, and only a part if you enroll with a part time course load.

Forever GI Bill

As of this writing, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Forever GI Bill on July 24, 2017, and it is likely that both the Senate and President of the United States will sign the bill into law this summer.

The Forever GI Bill ends the 15-year time limit for using your educational benefits. As a Post 9-11 GI bill recipient, I had to use my education benefit within 15 years of leaving the service. Under the Forever bill, anyone who leaves the military after January 1, 2013, is eligible to keep their unused education benefit forever.

Under the new bill, all Purple Heart recipients are at once eligible to receive the GI education benefit, regardless of time in service. Previously, recipients would still need to serve a full three years to receive 100% of the GI Bill even if they were wounded in the line of duty prior to that three-year period. You can find the full house resolution here.

GI Bill Summary

I get 36 months of education benefits – tuition, housing, and book stipend – when I use the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Active duty, veteran, reservists, and guardsmen are all eligible to use this amazing benefit with certain exceptions. The time I serve affects how much financial aid I am eligible for, and I can cover all tuition at a public school versus a private university.

Financial Aid Outside the GI Bill

Tuition Assistance

Tuition Assistance (TA) is for those who still wear the uniform. Each branch of the military – Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard – offers TA benefits that max out at $4,500 each fiscal year. The maximum allowable tuition rate is $250 per credit hour for up to 16 semester hours.

I personally have used TA and consider it a great benefit. As a reservist, it reduced my out of pocket cost for tuition at a public university, allowing me to focus more on my studies while serving the country.

Tuition Assistance Service Obligations, Restrictions, and Rules

There may be service obligations tied to using the Tuition Assistance Program, depending on your individual situation and military branch. Active duty Army officers will incur a two-year additional service obligation (ADSO), and reserve officers will incur a four-year ADSO after using TA.

Service members can use TA to advance as far as a master’s degree, but no PhD’s allowed – if it is your first time pursuing a “professional degree”.

See Also:

Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

The Reserve Educational Assistance Program ended in November of 2015. However, some reservists are still eligible to receive education benefits through this program, and it applied to those members who mobilized for war or a national emergency. If you previously applied for REAP and want to learn how you can switch over to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, go here.

College Credits for Military Training

There are several options for veterans and service members who want to turn their military experience, education, and training into college credits and trade certifications. Many schools offer credit hours for professional military education that count toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The American Council on Education works with over 2,300 schools that accept the Joint Services Transcript (JST), and all branches of the military use the JST to record military training and education. The Joint Services Transcript lets you receive occupational related credit for the work you’ve done in service to your country.

If you are interested in a school or degree program, you may be able to transfer credits. Contact the institution’s veteran student affairs representative to discuss your options. Many schools near military installations have degree programs that accept over 12 hours (one full-time semester) of transfer credit in exchange for completion of an accredited military school, such as basic combat training, a captain’s career course, or intermediate level education for senior leaders.

These are all examples of professional military education that can count towards elective credits or degree requirements. These college credits equate to more education dollars for the service member, on top of the GI Bill and Tuition Assistance.

Additional Resources

Resources like the GI Bill Comparison tool are a terrific way to explore my benefits. I can enter the name of any university and find out exactly how much the GI Bill will cover. It also shows me an estimate of how much I will pay to attend a non-resident or private school. It is important to confirm whether the institution will cover some costs via the Yellow Ribbon program or other scholarships.

The military scholarship databases at Scholarships.com, FastWeb, and the Fisher House search engine (link below) are a great place to find financial aid, above and beyond the GI Bill and Tuition Assistance.

Family Members

The Fisher House offers scholarships to military children, and they have an excellent search engine with links to hundreds of military and veteran organizations across the United States. These organizations offer scholarships and grants that can help military families attend an institute of higher learning.

There are hundreds of clubs and associations that offer scholarships to service members and their families, like the Army Aviation Association of America and the Air Force Sergeants Association Corporation. These are just two examples of many, as seen here in this list of over 100 military scholarship opportunities.

Transferring your GI Bill benefits to Family Members

It is possible to pay for my child’s college costs with my Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Transferring my Post-9/11 benefits to a family member – spouses and children are eligible – will cause me to incur an additional service obligation of four years. When I transfer my GI Bill to a family member, I must serve four more years on active duty. If I only have one child when I transfer my benefits, and later have another, I can split the bill between them. There are caveats and rules for transferring your Post-9/11 GI Bill to a family member; you can read them here.

For Gold Star Families: The John David Fry Scholarship and Dependent’s Educational Assistance Program

I want to make special mention of the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Memorial scholarship. This education benefit is available to surviving spouses and children of service members who died in the line of duty after September 11, 2001. It is named in honor of John Fry, an active duty Marine who died while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Children are eligible from age 18 to 33, and spouses have 15 years after the death of their loved one to use this scholarship. It works much like the GI Bill; a child or spouse will receive tuition, a housing allowance, and a book stipend while attending school. I have linked to the VA fact sheet here.

There is another VA education benefit for family members of fallen and severely injured service members, the Dependent’s Educational Assistance Program (DEA). Like the John Fry Scholarship, it offers monetary aid to family members wanting to attend school. This webpage has a chart that compares the two. The John Fry Scholarship offers a greater financial benefit. The DEA offers aid to those families whose service member becomes permanently and totally disabled because of their service. The John Fry scholarship is not available to families in this situation.

Endless Opportunities

The creation of the first GI Bill in 1944 gave an incredible opportunity to millions of World War II veterans. Those opportunities exist today through the Montgomery, Post 9-11, and now the Freedom GI Bill. Organizations across the country offer veterans and their families’ scholarships, grants, and opportunities to pursue a higher education during and after their service to the United States. With these benefits and scholarships, it is possible for service members and their families to graduate college with little to no student loan debt. This is an essential milestone on the road to financial freedom. Let us know how you’ve used your military education benefits in the comments below!

Published or updated August 10, 2017.

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