More Veterans May Attend 4-Year Colleges Full Time, Study Finds

August 27, 2009

The new GI Bill could increase the number of veterans and active-duty service members who attend four-year institutions and enroll full time, according to a report issued today by the American Council on Education.

The report, which draws on data from several government studies, bases its conclusions on the experiences of recent veterans. In 2007-8, undergraduate veterans and service members who received federal tuition benefits were 15 percentage points more likely to attend college full time and nine percentage points more likely to attend a four-year public college than were veterans and service members who did not receive the benefits. That year, 43 percent of veterans and service members attended two-year public colleges, while 21 percent attended four-year public institutions. Private for-profit and nonprofit colleges each had about a 13-percent share of the enrollment.

In one of the government studies, almost half of recent veterans and service members surveyed cited cost as a factor in their choice of college. The new GI Bill, which went into effect on August 1, provides veterans of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan with enough aid to attend the most expensive public college in their state.

Such expanded benefits may encourage veterans "to seek entry into more expensive colleges," says Alexandria Walton Radford of MPR Associates Inc., the report's author, "particularly if those institutions demonstrate responsiveness to their needs."

The report does not consider the effect that the expanded tuition benefits could have on enrollment in private institutions. Under the GI Bill, veterans attending private colleges can apply their award toward the cost of their institution, and may receive additional support through the "Yellow Ribbon" program, in which the government matches institutional aid.

However, the report does describe some of the challenges faced by veterans transitioning to college and suggests ways campuses can make themselves more veteran-friendly.

In a conference call with reporters, James Selbe, assistant vice president for lifelong learning at the council, said four-year colleges had an "opportunity to learn from community colleges about what [makes them] so compelling for military undergraduates."