The Military offers many educational benefits that servicemembers can take advantage of during or after service. From financial aid and college funds to programs that convert military training into college credit, there have never been more ways for servicemembers to further their education.
- Tuition Assistance
- Post-9/11 GI Bill
- College Fund Programs
- Loan Repayment Programs
- Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC)
- Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)
- Testing Programs
The rising cost of tuition can be hard to manage, but the Military’s Tuition Assistance Program provides servicemembers the opportunity to enroll in courses at accredited colleges, universities, junior colleges and vocational-technical schools. Each Service has unique programs that can help with tuition for anything from professional certifications to a graduate degree. To qualify, there are usually conditional requirements – such as having a minimum time remaining on your service contract and a cap on credit hours (or dollars) per year. Some programs, such as the Coast Guard’s College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative, also require that you attend a school from a designated list.
Tuition Assistance pays for up to 100 percent of the cost of tuition or expenses, up to a maximum of $250 per credit and a personal maximum of $4,500 per fiscal year per student. This program is the same for full-time-duty members in all Military Services. Selected Reserve and National Guard units also offer Tuition Assistance Programs, although the benefits may vary from the Active Duty’s program.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 GI Bill became effective on Aug. 1, 2009, and has the most comprehensive education benefits package since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944. Veterans who have served after Sept. 10, 2001, with at least 90 days of continuous service, are eligible. The Post-9/11 GI Bill also gives Reserve and Guard members who have been activated for more than 90 days since 9/11 access to the same benefits as their active-duty counterparts.
As of Aug. 1, 2011, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will now pay all public school in-state tuition and fees. The full benefit amount an individual can receive is calculated from these numbers:
- Tuition and fees payment (not to exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition and fees in each state)
- Living stipend (equivalent to basic housing allowance in that ZIP code for an E-5 with dependents)
- Allowance for books and supplies ($1,000 per year)
The actual benefit amount will vary based on an individual’s total length of service. For example, those who have served at least 36 months or 30 continuous days prior to discharge for a service-connected disability can get maximum tuition and fees, a monthly housing stipend and an annual stipend for books and supplies. Those who have served at least 90 days, but less than six months, receive 40 percent of the maximum benefit. These benefits are payable for up to 15 years following a member’s honorable discharge or retirement from service.
Another aspect of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the Yellow Ribbon Program. Colleges and universities that participate in this program contribute additional funds toward educational costs that exceed the maximums allowed by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Institutions may set the amount they wish to contribute, which is matched by Veterans Affairs. This can be very beneficial for students at private colleges and universities, graduate programs or those attending with out-of-state status. View a list of institutions that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill also offers servicemembers the ability to share educational benefits with family members. In exchange for an additional service commitment, a servicemember may be able to transfer all or part of his or her earned benefits to spouses and children (including stepchildren). This is a first for the GI Bill and opens up new opportunities for servicemembers and their families.
College Fund Programs
(also known as the GI Bill “kicker”)
College Fund Programs offer an additional amount of money that can be added to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Army, Marine Corps and Navy all have College Fund Programs; however, each Service branch determines who qualifies for the College Fund and the amount received. College Fund Programs are offered to servicemembers when they first join the Military. Two mandatory qualifications are you must have a high school diploma and you must be enrolled in the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Depending on your Service, test scores and occupation, there may also be additional requirements. Talk to a recruiter to find out if you are eligible and to ask for an application.
The Air Force doesn’t have a College Fund Program, but it does have a community college (see below).
Loan Repayment Programs
The Army, Navy and Air Force offer loan repayment programs that help enlisted personnel pay off college loans accrued prior to service. While each program has unique processes and requirements, they’re all enlistment incentives designed to help recent college graduates manage education debt.
Army: In the full-time-duty Army, Soldiers can qualify to have their loan repaid by the Military at the rate of one-third of the loan for each year of full-time duty served (maximum loan repayment is $65,000). The Army even helps Soldiers pay off student loans they’ve taken out, provided they attended schools on approved Perkins, Stafford or other Department of Education guaranteed student loans.
Navy: In the full-time-duty Navy, a $65,000 Loan Repayment Program is also available. Qualifications include no prior military service, a high school diploma and a loan guaranteed under the Higher Education Act of 1965. If an individual does qualify, either of these programs is a great way to get out of debt!
Air Force: The College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP) is a program created for all non-prior-servicemembers considering enlistment in the Air Force. For young people who have taken some college courses and have accumulated debt, this could very well be the perfect opportunity. Participants must sign up for this program when signing the enlistment contract. Under CLRP, the repayment maximum is $10,000 per recruit.
Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC)
Servicemember Opportunity Colleges (SOC) are a great way for servicemembers and their families to gain an education while serving, as it enables them to get college degrees through an association of accredited colleges, universities and technical institutes. SOC member schools acknowledge and transfer credits, making it possible for servicemembers to continue college studies as they move to new duty stations.
SOC offers servicemembers:
- A personal degree plan
- Assurance that no single SOC school need contribute more than 25 percent of total degree coursework
- College credit for military experience and for accredited military training courses
- College credit for national tests such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) (see Testing Programs)
Hundreds of thousands of people are enrolled each year in SOC. Coursework can be done in the classroom or at a distance by computer or correspondence. Two-year, four-year and graduate-level programs are available. The Army has a special version of SOC called the Concurrent Admissions Program (ConAP), which helps link new Soldiers to a college at the time of enlistment.
Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)
The Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) is an accredited two-year college open to enlisted Air Force men and women. CCAF offers nearly 70 different associate degree programs in many scientific and technical fields including computer science technology, avionic systems technology, air and space operations technology, allied health sciences, paralegal, information management and more.
Every CCAF degree requires courses in the servicemember’s technical job specialty, leadership/management/military studies, general education and physical education. Servicemembers can accumulate credits while on Active Duty at Air Force technical training schools and when they enroll in colleges near their duty stations that offer accredited courses. Enlisted members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are also eligible to participate in CCAF. CCAF also awards credit for exams offered by the testing programs listed below.
The Military administers thousands of academic exams to servicemembers each year. These tests can earn servicemembers college credit for skills acquired during military training and operations and are available to all active-duty, Reserve and Guard personnel, as well as their families. The testing is available at a discount and is divided into the following:
- College Level Equivalency Program (CLEP) General Exams: Each exam measures the knowledge presumably gained during the first two years in college.
- CLEP Subject Exams: For every one of these timed, computer-based exams that a servicemember passes, he or she generally receives three hours of college credit (six or 12 hours are possible in some situations).
- DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST): Passing a DSST exam also earns servicemembers college credit. DANTES has no time limit and is a paper-based test.
- Excelsior College Exams (ECE): Excelsior College (formerly known as Regents College) is a “virtual university” that counts many military personnel among its worldwide graduates. Excelsior College Exams are accepted for college credit by hundreds of colleges and universities.
As of Aug. 1, 2011, servicemembers can receive reimbursement for some licensing and certification exams, and they can also be reimbursed for fees related to the SAT, LSAT, ACT and other college and graduate school entrance tests.