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Those who have dedicated themselves to defending our country and freedoms have earned, and deserve, every dollar of their hard-won GI Bill® benefits. But with the continually rising cost of education, will the benefits be enough to cover a degree, certification, or training program? And will the education provided by those benefits result in a career-relevant learning outcome? Think of it this way -- if a Porsche and a Kia were available at the same price, which would you pick? According to military.com, “The Montgomery GI Bill® is an education benefit which can be worth over $69K, based on the monthly full-time student payment rate of $1,928 multiplied by the 36-month limit [equal to eight college semesters].” The concern facing active and transitioning military personnel is the fact skyrocketing tuition rates could reduce the value of benefits, and forethought is needed to ensure that benefits cover costs.
Below is a checklist that will bring the potential value of GI Bill® education benefits into focus and help degree-seekers choose wisely.
- Is the institution “military friendly”? While many programs use “military friendly” as a marketing term, there are actually specific qualifications. A truly military friendly institution will offer personalized transition and career counseling, and be open to accepting credit from nontraditional education by offering CLEP and DSST exams for college credit (meaning, parts of your military training will translate into college credit). The institution will ideally provide assistance with maximizing the number of transfer credits available, including military credits without associated grade point averages.
- Is the college or institution accredited? Profit, or nonprofit? This is important. Students who have chosen unaccredited, for-profit degree programs can tell horror stories about their experiences, including those of institutions declaring bankruptcy after students have paid for programs or have borrowed to pay for programs. Note that institutional bankruptcy does not cancel student loan debt. Accreditation means that a college or university has undergone external audits to confirm that the institution in question keeps promises made to students, and that courses and degrees are academically legitimate. Every aspect of a school comes under the auditor’s microscope, including faculty qualifications, administrative processes, and learning outcomes. This accreditation is reaffirmed at regular intervals, meaning that institutions must continually meet accreditation standards. Also, accredited, nonprofit institutions are not subject to bankruptcy, like for-profit programs.
- Does the school or program offer career and transition counseling for veterans and enlisted personnel? According to military.com, “Veterans may face difficult transitions to civilian life, ranging from readjustment issues to injury recovery. Many schools are lacking in efforts to support incoming students.” So ask, does the university recognize the challenges of transition to a civilian life and career? Does it offer specific support? Look for internal veteran and military student organizations and support systems, such as military-specialized career and personal counseling services. This will help reduce the sense of isolation and loss of camaraderie reported by many veterans on college campuses, and keep students on track to graduation.
- Will Your Benefits Cover the Full Cost of a Degree? While college graduates earn an estimated $50,000 a year, or $30,000 a year more than high-school graduates, college costs have, in some cases, more than doubled in the last 15 years. Tuition rates are climbing so quickly that students are often “priced out” of their education before they can graduate. While GI Bill® benefits offer what should be enough to pay for a full college education, there’s no guarantee that this amount will cover the tuition price tags that are increasing on a yearly basis.Will your benefits be exhausted before you graduate? Does the program you’re looking at guarantee the cost of tuition over time, so you can accurately calculate whether your benefits will cover costs? Find out -- best to avoid having to borrow to finish a degree.
- Will the degree or certification program give students practical career skills and knowledge to hit the ground running after graduation? As of 2015, only 30 percent of employers reported that recent college graduates are prepared for employment. So it’s crucial to find out whether a particular degree program will provide the practical skills and knowledge employers seek. Will a student have to spend valuable benefit dollars on required courses that are irrelevant to career goals? Will you know what employers want after completion, and will you have it?Ask whether courses offer career-relevant learning outcomes. Find out if instructors have direct, current experience in their fields. Ask if employers are satisfied with the institution’s alumni employees, and report that graduates were prepared to succeed in their professional roles.
These are the tough, practical questions that need to be asked if veterans and enlisted personnel want to maximize their return on their GI Bill® benefits. Take the time to get the answers -- you’ll be glad you did, possibly for the rest of your life. Resources: VA Benefits Fact Sheet: https://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets.asp How to use your GI Bill®: http://www.military.com/education/gi-bill/learn-to-use-your-gi-bill.html GI Bill® Customer Help: https://www.gibill.va.gov/wave/index.do