The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that more than 21 million veterans and active-duty military personnel live in the U.S. Every year, roughly one million of these individuals use some form of VA-administered educational benefit, and thousands more receive additional financial assistance or reduced tuition from military-friendly colleges and universities.
Most of these students participate in one of two government benefit programs: the Post-9/11 GI Bill® program or the Montgomery GI Bill® program. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, current and former military personnel with at least 90 days of service after September 10, 2001 can receive up to 36 months of financial aid. This funding, which covers the equivalent of the full cost of tuition at the most expensive public university in the participant's home state, goes directly to the institution.
The Montgomery GI Bill also provides up to 36 months of education funding for veterans and reservists, but the federal government pays this money to the participating student. The student can then use this funding on tuition and other educational expenses. The Montgomery GI Bill typically offers less funding than the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but is more flexible.
Approximately 1,900 schools across the country participate in the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) network. By joining the SOC network, these colleges and universities commit to supporting the needs of military students and their families. They pledge to accept transfer credits from other member schools, reduce or eliminate residency requirements, and offer other forms of assistance to make it easier for veterans and military personnel to earn an online social work degree.
The Importance of Military Status
Your military status dictates your eligibility for many government benefit programs. As an example, active-duty military personnel cannot receive a monthly housing allowance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, because the federal government still provides them with housing. Instead, active-duty students may opt to attend a military-friendly college online. Understanding your status can help you understand which benefits you can and should receive.
- Active-Duty Military: Active-duty personnel serve in the military on a full-time basis. They often live on or near a military base and can be deployed at any time. Individuals serving in the Reserves or National Guard do not technically qualify as active-duty personnel, though they may be called to active duty in response to a national emergency or armed conflict.
- Inactive-Duty Military: Inactive-duty personnel typically serve in the National Guard or the Reserves. Individuals may serve as members of the Ready Reserve, the Standby Reserve, or the Retired Reserve. The government may provide some educational benefits to individuals who have served on active duty for a certain period of time, such as an aggregate of 90 days of service.
- Discharged (Multiple Types): The government relieves discharged personnel of their commitment to the armed forces. You may receive one of eight forms of discharge, and your discharge status greatly affects your eligibility for certain benefit programs. For example, to receive most forms of government education benefits, you must receive either an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions.
- Retired/Veteran: Retired personnel must serve in the military for at least 20 years and then transfer to the Retired Reserve. The VA defines a veteran as an individual who served on active duty and was then discharged or released under honorable conditions.
Government Benefits for Military Students
The Post-9/11 GI Bill®
Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the VA provides millions of dollars in educational assistance to current and former members of the US. military. The program increases the amount of support previously available to veterans and military personnel through the Montgomery GI Bill.
To qualify for this program, you must have served on active duty for at least 90 days following September 10, 2001. You may also qualify if you received a disability-related discharge from duty. You can confirm your eligibility and apply on the VA website. You can also contact your local VA office for more information or assistance with completing the application.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers up to the full cost of tuition at the most expensive public university in a student's home state for a maximum of 36 months. The program also offers a monthly housing allowance, which varies depending on where a student lives. Students can receive a $1,000 stipend per year for supplies and a $100 stipend per month for tutoring. Beneficiaries can apply tuition benefits at any accredited college, university, trade school, or training program. However, they must do so within 15 years of their final day of military service.
Some students, especially those attending a private or out-of-state school, may incur a higher tuition bill than what the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers. Schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program voluntarily provide additional financial support to military students and their families. The VA then matches the amount of money that the school chooses to provide.
In some circumstances, you can transfer your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a spouse or dependent. You typically must elect to do so while still on active duty.
The Montgomery GI Bill®
The Montgomery GI Bill provides financial aid to current and former military personnel, though the program generally offers less funding than the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The program primarily caters to members of the armed forces who served prior to September 10, 2001. The program also assists individuals seeking greater flexibility in their educational benefits.
You must meet certain service requirements to qualify, including an honorable discharge from duty. You must also have at least a high school diploma or GED. Finally, you must choose to enroll in the program during your active-duty service and agree to contribute $100 per month for 12 months. Alternatively, you can make a single payment of $1,200.
The Montgomery GI Bill also provides 36 months of benefits, though the monthly allotment varies based on duration of service, the type of school or training program you attend, and your current enrollment status. The maximum allotment is roughly $2,000 per month. The government gives this money directly to you, and you can use it to pay for tuition at a military-friendly college or any other accredited educational institution or training program.
The program does offer some funding for tutoring, but it does not cover housing or books like the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Students must pay for these expenses from their monthly allotment. You can transfer your benefits to a spouse or dependent if you meet certain service requirements.
Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges
The SOC network includes 1,900 military-friendly colleges and universities across the U.S. Member schools offer services that make it easier for military personnel and their families to attend college and earn a degree.
SOC schools commit to accepting transfer credits from any other member institution. This feature helps current members of the armed services who may need to switch schools due to a change in deployment. SOC institutions also reduce or eliminate residency requirements for military personnel. This allows you to earn a degree even if you have taken courses at many different colleges.
SOC schools voluntarily offer other services as well. For example, an institution may provide discounted tuition to veterans or mental health counseling services specifically for individuals who have served. Schools may choose to provide course credit in recognition of your military experience and training. Military-friendly online colleges may extend or eliminate time limits on degree programs to allow service members the flexibility to start and stop their education as needed.
What Does It Mean for a School to Be Military Friendly?
Military-friendly colleges do not possess any sort of official designation. Rather, they voluntarily work to support the needs of veterans, military personnel, and their loved ones. This support may come in the form of waived application fees, discounted tuition, counseling services, or cohorts made up entirely of military-affiliated students. When researching where to earn your online social work degree, try to find a school that offers the kind of assistance you need.
- Tuition Discounts for Military: Many schools, especially those that offer online programs, provide tuition discounts to members of the military and their families. Reduced tuition rates vary considerably, though they average around between 10% and 25%. In lieu of offering discounts, some schools choose to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program instead.
- Credit Opportunities: A military-friendly college understands that a great deal of learning occurs during one's military service. As a way of recognizing this learning, schools may offer course credit for veterans and military personnel. They may also allow you to test out of subjects for which you have previously received training. SOC schools facilitate credit transfers across member institutions.
- Financial Aid: Instead of offering blanket tuition discounts, some schools administer scholarship programs for military students or their dependents. These programs allow institutions to attract members of the armed forces who have demonstrated extraordinary academic or leadership potential. You must apply to these scholarships in addition to applying for government benefits.
- On-Campus Benefits: Military-friendly schools offer more than just financial support. They often provide housing, healthcare, and mental health counseling. They may organize and fund student organizations that cater exclusively to veterans, or they may administer mentoring programs for former service members considering new career paths.
- Academic Programs: Some students may want to continue their careers in the military. To help them do so, they may seek out a military-friendly college with degrees or coursework in military science or military history. Others may want to leave the military but remain in public service. These students may choose to attend a military college for social work.
- Flexibility: Many veterans and active-duty personnel choose schools that offer flexible class options. For example, many military friendly online colleges allow students to attend class and complete assignments largely on their own schedule. Students who prefer in-person learning experiences may choose programs with night and weekend course options.
* 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.