Each year, the federal government issues over $10.2 billion in benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill® and the Montgomery GI Bill® to students who are active-duty service members or were discharged under certain circumstances. Many higher learning institutions started programs specifically for servicemembers to meet the needs of those using GI Bill benefits. While the GI Bills get students started, they do not cover all of a service member’s educational needs. In response, military-friendly colleges found creative ways to retain military students and help them earn degrees. In addition to the GI Bill, schools may offer financial aid for the 1.3 million active service members, 800,000 reservists, and 21.8 million veterans in the country who need further aid.
Some military-friendly online colleges offer benefits such as reduced tuition rates, flexible scheduling, and scholarships. Furthermore, over 1,900 institutions belong to the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges (SOC) program. This partnership helps active-duty servicemembers easily transfer when they are reassigned or continue attending online classes through their institution without increased tuition rates. Some learners can apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program and find other ways to fill the financial gaps that GI Bills leave.
The Importance of Military Status
The aid that a student qualifies for depends on the learner’s military status. Each military-friendly college and financial aid program has its own requirements for eligibility. However, active-duty, reserve, discharged, and veteran military students can all find ways to pay for an online nursing degree. It’s important for potential students to investigate each program’s eligibility requirements.
- Active-Duty Military: Many financial assistance programs allow active-duty military personnel to receive benefits. These degree candidates can find funding through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program, school-funded scholarships, federal student loans, grants, and private scholarships. Military-friendly online colleges often offer these students reduced tuition and fees as well.
- Inactive-Duty Military: Reservists who have a six-year commitment can qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) instead of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These learners are often eligible for private scholarships and other school-specific benefits as well. Some reservists may also meet Post-9/11 GI Bill requirements, which can give the learner the same aid as many active-duty servicemembers.
- Discharged (Multiple Types): Whether or not a discharged servicemember is eligible for military-specific financial aid depends on the type of discharge. Generally, those who received honorable or service-related disability discharges can apply for much of the same aid as their active-duty peers. However, students with other types of discharges may need to rely on more conventional financial aid.
- Retired/Veteran: The Department of Veterans Affairs offers many education programs for learners who completed their service. Many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, even upon retirement. Furthermore, veterans can apply for benefits through their home states and schools.
Government Benefits for Military Students
The Post-9/11 GI Bill®
In the aftermath of 9/11, the Veterans Administration (VA) started administering the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This bill helps those who served in the military during this difficult time to get education benefits. Furthermore, this bill helps to recruit new servicemembers. Those who qualify can receive free tuition to a public, in-state school for 36 months. This unique GI Bill also offers the Yellow Ribbon Program to cover additional fees and the option to transfer benefits to an eligible family member. The VA caps the amount it pays for private, out-of-state, or foreign tuition. The Yellow Ribbon Program can cover additional tuition for service members who want to attend programs at these schools. Some students may also receive funding for books, a monthly housing stipend, or a one-time payment for going to a rural school.
Not everyone who served in the military after 9/11 is eligible for these benefits. To qualify, applicants must serve at least 90 days of active service after September 10, 2001, or 30 days of active service if they received an honorable or service-related disability discharge. Anyone released from active duty before 2013 must wait 15 years to get these benefits. Benefits candidates can apply on the VA website, in the nearest VA office, at the higher learning institution, or by mailing a completed application to the VA.
The Montgomery GI Bill®
The MGIB comes in two forms: Active Duty and Selected Reserve. The VA offers these benefits programs to eligible candidates for 36 months. The Active Duty program is exclusively for currently serving members with at least two years of service behind them. The Selected Reserve program requires applicants to have at least a six-year commitment and completion of initial active duty training. All MGIB candidates need a high school diploma and to remain in good standing. Like other GI bills, the MGIB acts as an incentive to recruit new members. However, this particular bill also helps build the reserves force.
Interested students should apply on the VA website or at a local office. Any students confused about their eligibility should contact the local VA for clarification. Recipients can use the benefits to pay for tuition at many programs, including online nursing degree programs.
Servicemember Opportunity Colleges
Active duty servicemembers and their families are used to moving a lot, which can make it difficult for students to earn a nursing degree. That’s why the Department of Defense and DANTES created the SOC programs. Many higher learning institutions joined this partnership to make earning a degree easier for military students. Around 1,900 schools participate in the SOC program and they each offer unique benefits. These institutions go above and beyond to become military-friendly colleges. Some offer decreased tuition rates and many allow students flexibility with scheduling. Furthermore, these programs eliminate constricting transfer and admission rules, which used to make things much harder for active duty servicemembers and their families to get an education. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard each have their own iterations of this program.
What Does It Mean for a School to Be Military-Friendly?
Students seeking a military nursing college should look for the benefits that best suit their needs. While many schools claim to be military-friendly colleges, only those that implement military-specific plans should receive that distinction. Learners should look for benefits such as flexible scheduling, lower tuition rates, and military studies. Degree candidates should also decide if they are only considering military-friendly colleges online or if on-campus benefits may be better.
- Tuition Discounts for Military: This benefit is very straightforward when it comes to schools recruiting military personnel. Since GI Bill benefits may expire before a student completes a nursing program, some institutions offer discounts on tuition. Even students who won’t need this benefit can take it as a sign that the school is a military-friendly college.
- Credit Opportunities (e.g., Prior Learning, Transfer Credits): Service members learn a lot on the job, and some military-friendly colleges recognize that with school credit. Furthermore, some schools make it easier for military members and their immediate family to transfer and keep the credits they earned. Certain schools even waive admissions requirements for non-military transfer students.
- Financial Aid (e.g., Scholarships, Benefits for Spouses/Children): Many nonprofit organizations want to see veterans and active-duty military members succeed in their educational endeavors. That’s why some of these organizations offer scholarships for such students to cover books, fees, and living expenses. Furthermore, a military-friendly college may offer special scholarships for service members.
- On-Campus Benefits (e.g., Discounted Housing, Student Organizations, Job Support Post-Graduation, Healthcare/Counseling Services): Students attending college on campus can reap many additional benefits. Some institutions offer discounts for on-campus housing and board. These schools may also give veterans free access to healthcare and counseling. Furthermore, many colleges support recent graduates in finding a job in their fields.
- Academic Programs (e.g., Military Studies): One way for a military-friendly college to prove its devotion to servicemembers is by offering academic programs that set students up for a successful military career. Tomorrow’s military leaders can take courses in subjects that matter to defense officials. Some schools also offer majors in military studies.
- Flexibility (e.g., Adjustable Scheduling Formats): Transfers in the military can come unexpectedly and things can change rapidly for these families. As such, it’s important for colleges to offer flexibility for military students, such as self-paced courses, forgiveness for dropping a class, and alternative scheduling formats.
* 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.