Making the Most of Your GI Bill Education Benefits 

Military Transition

Welcome to the new series on making the most of your GI Bill education benefits. With either of the two most popular GI Bills, education benefits are limited to just 36 months each, so it is important to use those benefits wisely, so you can get the most value from each month.

If you are using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, there is a big difference in the amount the VA pays in tuition between going to a public school or a private one. As far as the monthly housing allowance, that differs, too, depending on whether classes are on campus, online or a combination of both. The book stipend remains unchanged regardless of the kind of college or university or type of class attendance.

Attending school on campus

Going to a brick and mortar school gets you the most bang for your Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement buck, but there is still a wide range of choices to make.  If attending a public school as a resident, generally 100% of the tuition and certain fee costs are covered and paid directly to the school by the VA if you are at the 100% eligibility tier – meaning you either have at least three years of service or are covered by a qualifying service-connected disability.

However, if you have been out of the military for three years or more and start school in a state other than where you claim residency, you could have to pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rate as the Post 9/11 GI Bill only pays the in-state rate.

As far as private schools, the maximum amount the VA can pay by law differs from the public school rate – up to $22,805.34 per year (2017/2018 academic year figure) for private schools verses up to 100% for public.

As an example, without factoring in any financial aid, it costs a resident student $48,989 per year in 2017 to go to Harvard, so the Post 9/11 GI Bill would only pay about half of the yearly tuition bill. And the out-of-state state tuition rate at some schools can be two to three times more than their in-state rate, so the unpaid difference can be even higher.

Payments other than tuition

Two payments sent to students using the Post 9/11 GI Bill are the monthly housing allowance (MHA) and book stipend. The MHA amount varies as it is driven for the most part by the zip code of the school (along with the number of credits taken during the term and tier eligibility). The book stipend on the other hand is fixed at $41.67 per credit with a $1,000 cap per academic year (and also dependent on tier eligibility).

Attending online only

The biggest difference between going to school on campus and attending online is the MHA. For some reason, the rules are different, although housing costs could be the same.

Students using the Post 9/11 GI Bill and going to school only online get less MHA than on campus students receive using the same GI Bill. The difference can be significant. As an example, the MHA for New York University is $4,148 per month if attending on campus, but only $841 if attending online.

Hybrid

So what is the way around this loss of MHA if you want attend school online? The answer is to take one class per semester that qualifies as a hybrid class at a local school; just ensure the class you take is one you need to check off on your degree plan and has been approved by your online school first. It can even be just a 3-credit class. But doing so, puts you back at the on-campus MHA rate – even if the rest of your credits that term are online.

However, for a class to qualify as a hybrid course, it must meet on campus for a number of hours equal to or greater than the credit hours times the duration of the course.

For example, a 3-credit 16-week semester course would have to meet at least 48 hours on campus during the semester to qualify as hybrid and eligible for the higher MHA rate.

The amount paid in tuition and book stipend money remains unchanged regardless of venue – on campus, online only or hybrid.

In Part 2 and beyond of this series, we continue to look at different ways to get the most from your GI Bill, including using multiple GI Bills which many veterans have today.

Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.

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