Recently I’ve discussed the value of the GI Bill to current or former military members’ education. But the GI Bill is just one of many educational benefits earned from military service. In this article we look at six of the most beneficial educational benefits from serving. Some must be used while serving, while others can be used at any time.
1. GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill sign-up at Basic Training is being phased out and will no longer be offered by 2030. However, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is alive and well … and free for military members meeting the eligibility criteria.
Three years of active duty service earns 36 months of entitlement at the 100% tier level; a minimum of at least 90 days earns the 50% rate. The tier level percentage increases 10% with each additional six months of service. The tier level rate not only applies to tuition and fees, but also to the monthly housing allowance and book stipend.
For servicemembers at the top tier, the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays 100% of in-state tuition and fees at public schools; the VA is limited by law to paying up to a maximum of $26,042.81 per year at private and foreign schools.
When the New GI Bill is used, tuition and fees are paid directly to the school. Each month while in school, the veteran gets paid a monthly housing allowance that varies by the zip code of the school. Right now, the national average is $1,900 per month. Veteran students also get up to $1,000 per year in book stipend.
If using the MGIB-AD, full-time students get paid a flat rate of $2,150 per month. Out of that amount, they must pay their own tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.
2. Tuition Assistance
Tuition Assistance (TA) is a very valuable educational tool as it is free money while serving. Not only will its use allow you to earn a college credits, and even a degree while serving, but it preserves GI Bill entitlement for use later by either the servicemember or their dependents, in the case of a transfer of benefits.
While each military branch administers their own TA program a little differently, all of them pay for:
- Lab Fees
- Enrollment fees
- Special Fees
- Computer Fees
TA is paid directly to a school and varies between $3,000 to $4,500 annually – depending on the branch of service. Once the cap is met, servicemembers can use Tuition Top-Up or their GI Bill.
3. Tuition Assistance Top-Up
Top-Up is also a benefit that must be used while serving. For courses costing more than what TA will pay, servicemembers can pay the difference using their GI Bill. If using the MGIB-AD, it reduces entitlement at the rate of one month of entitlement for each month’s worth of payments. As of this writing, a month of MGIB-AD entitlement is worth $2,150.
If using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, entitlement is reduced at the rate of one month each time a payment is made regardless of the amount. For example, Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement would be reduced a full month … even if the VA only paid a few dollars during a term; the same as would if it had paid full tuition and fees for that term.
Credit-by-exam are college credits awarded by passing the course final exam, but not having to take the course itself. Administered by DANTES, credit-by-exam college credits are accepted at more than 2,900 universities and colleges. Exams come from three different sources with multiple exams within each source:
For military personnel, some spouses and civilian military personnel, credit by exams are free for the most part. In some cases, a small registration fee is charged.
While veterans usually have to pay to take exams, the cost is reimbursable through the use of their GI Bill. Because college credits cost more than credit-by-exams, this is just another way to save GI Bill entitlement that you may want to use for a more expensive graduate degree for example.
5. College Credit for Military Experience and Training
The American Council of Education (ACE) translates military service into credits. Credits are awarded toward specific subject areas and whether they apply to upper or lower division. Most schools will accept a transfer in up to a certain number of military credits. For the student, not only does it save time by not having to take extra courses, but it saves TA and GI Bill entitlement.
Basic Training, Advanced Individual Training, MOS, and NCO and officer courses are all worth college credits. Servicemembers or veterans from all the branches, except Air Force, can get a copy of their military service credits by requesting a transcript through JST; Air Force personnel and veterans can get their transcript from the Community College of the Air Force.
6. Military Scholarships and Grants
Even with these military service benefits – as good as they are – often it is not enough to pay for a four-year degree in full. When all the benefits have been applied and a financial difference still exists, it must be made up either out-of-pocket by the student veteran or subsidized through other financial aid resources such as grants, scholarships – or as a last resort, student loans.
The terms scholarship and grant are often used interchangeably, in part because neither of them must be paid back – unlike student loans. But they are different in the criteria used to award them. Most scholarships are awarded based on merit, while grants are usually based on financial need.
All of these benefits are valuable and should not be wasted. When combined, they are very powerful and saves the student both time and money. However once they are gone, they are gone forever, so use them judiciously!