• August 29, 2015

Veterans Use New GI Bill Largely at For-Profit and 2-Year Colleges

Veterans Use Benefits of New GI Bill Largely at For-Profit and Community Colleges 1

Thomas Slusser for The Chronicle

Lamonte W. Mills, an Air Force veteran, used the Post-9/11 GI Bill to return to Tidewater Community College and start working toward a law degree. The place "feels like home," he says. And "they thanked me for serving."

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close Veterans Use Benefits of New GI Bill Largely at For-Profit and Community Colleges 1

Thomas Slusser for The Chronicle

Lamonte W. Mills, an Air Force veteran, used the Post-9/11 GI Bill to return to Tidewater Community College and start working toward a law degree. The place "feels like home," he says. And "they thanked me for serving."

For-profit colleges and community colleges were the most popular choices of students who used benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill this past academic year, the first in which the aid was available. The attendance patterns were largely similar to those of students who recently used aid under the previous version of the GI Bill.

Advocates of the Post-9/11 bill, which was enacted in 2008, had said it could improve veterans' ability to afford four-year institutions because of its increased benefits and new allowances for housing and textbooks. But data from the Department of Veterans Affairs show that for-profit and community colleges continue to dominate the list of the top institutions where veterans use their education benefits.

Among the 15 institutions that enrolled more than 1,000 students who used the new GI Bill's benefits from October to May, seven were for-profits and five were community colleges. In 2007, nine of the top 15 under the previous Montgomery GI Bill, as it was called, were for-profits, and three were community colleges.

A total of 270,666 students used the new benefits in 2009-10. Veterans and college officials say cost, convenience, geography, and support systems were significant factors in veterans' college decisions.

The University of Phoenix, whose online-learning program has been particularly attractive to veterans, topped the list, enrolling more than 10,000 students who used the new benefits. Phoenix operates a military division with more than 1,000 employees who specifically assist and advise veterans. It also awarded 50 scholarships to veterans in the 2010 fiscal year, worth $4,000 each, and will increase the maximum amount to $7,000 for next year.

Lamonte W. Mills, a veteran who is a student at Tidewater Community College, in Virginia, says he returned to the college, which he attended in 2000, because of its low cost and welcoming environment. He felt at home there in part because of the large veteran population and because of the support veterans receive, from "the provost on down."

Tidewater, which has four campuses near the large naval base in Norfolk, enrolled 2,405 students who used Post-9/11 GI benefits in 2009-10, the fourth-highest total.

Mr. Mills, 29, served in the Air Force on active duty from 2007 to 2009. When he heard about the expanded GI Bill, he applied for early exit from active duty and is now a member of the Air Force Reserve.

Graduating from college was always a goal of his, he says, and his military experience helped him focus on a plan. Mr. Mills now has his sights set on earning a law degree.

"I was going to apply to various other colleges and universities, but I was led back to TCC," he says. "It feels like home. When I was gone for so long, I wasn't certain if anyone would remember me. But everyone did. They thanked me for serving."

Bigger Benefits

The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers benefits that weren't in the Montgomery GI Bill, an advantage that its sponsors hoped would make four-year colleges more accessible to veterans. Under the Montgomery bill, benefits are adjusted annually, on the basis of average undergraduate tuition. The new GI Bill gives veterans up to the full amount of tuition and fees at the most-expensive public college in their states. And it provides a monthly housing allowance and an annual stipend for textbooks.

The new bill also includes a "yellow ribbon" program, which seeks to help veterans attend private colleges, graduate schools, and out-of-state public institutions. The federal government matches the amount of financial aid pledged by participating colleges above the base educational benefits for tuition and fees provided in the new GI Bill. More than 700 colleges and universities participated in the program in the past academic year.

The Post-9/11 bill also makes it easier to transfer benefits to a spouse or child.

Israel De La Cruz, who is on active duty in the Army, transferred his benefits to his wife, Venetia. She is pursuing a bachelor of science in human-services management at the University of Phoenix.

"I wanted to take classes online so I could stay home with my kids," says Ms. De La Cruz, who lives with her husband and two children in Fort Lewis, Wash. "And we put our son's name on the benefits, too, so he'll be able to use them."

The programs of seven of the top 15 colleges enrolling recipients of GI Bill aid are largely online. And many of the 15 operate satellite campuses near military bases.

University of Maryland University College, which ranked third, enrolled more than 3,000 GI Bill recipients over the past academic year, on campuses near U.S. military bases in Europe and Asia, in Maryland, and online. It was one of 20 colleges to receive $100,000 grants last year from the American Council on Education and the Walmart Foundation to increase programs and services for veterans. Maryland has used the money to create an online classroom-orientation program and a campus orientation for veterans, as well as to conduct four open houses specifically for veterans.

"We were military-friendly before it became a marketing term," says John F. Jones Jr., the university's vice president for Department of Defense relations. "We've always been so proud of having a large military component among our student body, and the new GI Bill has allowed us to continue serving even more veterans."

Outreach by 4-Year Colleges

Although four-year public colleges are not enrolling as many veterans using GI Bill benefits as are some for-profit and community colleges, a number of them are also increasing efforts to do so, and to improve campus services for them.

Some institutions, such as San Diego State University and the University of Missouri at Columbia, have recently opened offices to provide veteran-specific services. Last month the University of Utah opened the National Center for Veterans Studies, a joint effort of its College of Law and College of Social and Behavioral Science that will conduct research, provide outreach and vocational training, and engage in nonpartisan advocacy for veterans.

As part of the center, the university also created a National Service Academy, which will tailor some courses to veterans' talents and experiences. Hiram E. Chodosh, dean of law at Utah, says veterans' drive to serve their country could be refocused to service in other areas, like health care and civil engineering.

"One of the ways we're trying to help veterans is by knowing we need veterans to help us," he says. "They represent an incredibly untapped resource of talent and training."

Some public four-year universities are seeing more success than others in enrolling veterans. Arizona State and Ohio State Universities, for example, enrolled 716 and 548 students, respectively, using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in the past academic year.

Both universities were cited by the online 2010 Guide to Military Friendly Schools as being attractive to veterans because of their sheer size and their online programs. Both also offer scholarships specifically for veterans. Campus officials say they have seen an increase in the number of veterans and their family members using the Post-9/11 benefits compared with those in the older GI Bill.

Charlene P. Kamani, supervisor for veterans' benefits and certification at Arizona State, says it enrolled about 60 percent more veterans across its campuses this past year than in 2008-9. The new law, she says, "offers them a greater ability to come here."

Further Expansion Sought

The Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect less than a year ago, in August 2009, but a U.S. senator already wants to expand its benefits.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat and an Army veteran, introduced legislation last month that would make all members of the National Guard and Reserve programs eligible for the new GI Bill benefits. His proposal would allow veterans to receive aid for a wider array of educational programs, including vocational and on-the-job training, and would make it easier for them to qualify for the housing and textbook allowances.

The bill would also base benefits on a national average of tuition, instead of on the highest public-college tuition in each state.

"We are excited that there is again movement in making some legislative changes to the new GI Bill," says James Selbe, assistant vice president for lifelong learning at the American Council on Education.

While the bill's prospects are unclear, and its cost has not been estimated, the council continues to focus on ways to improve how colleges serve veterans. Following up on the $2-million in grants that the council and Walmart issued last year to 20 colleges, the council will identify colleges that used the money to create the best programs and will urge other colleges to adopt the most-effective practices.

"There's a pretty large-scale effort nationwide in building the capacity to serve veterans," Mr. Selbe says. "But there's still work to do within institutions to improve the veteran experience of transitioning from service to school."


1. arrive2__net - June 13, 2010 at 06:49 pm

By enabling the transfer of some veterans benefits to family members the new bill provides much greater flexibility to military families to actually use the benefits, even if the miltary member already has a degree or in not available or interested in getting one. I think that is a big plus for the new system. Military families often experience long periods of separation, or have to move all over. Making that benefit available can make for good feelings within the family. The benefits of the availability of online higher education are demonstrated when the veterans, who have the benefit-resources, choose them.

Bernard Schuster

2. gplm2000 - June 14, 2010 at 11:10 am

The GI Bill should be a permanent educational loan program for all military people. I suspect that most veterans use community colleges and for-profits because they cannot get admitted to 4-yr. non-profit colleges. The open-admissions of community colleges and for-profits make it easy to "go to college".

I like the community colleges for marginally qualified students as a way to gain entrance to a 4-yr. college. The for-profits degrees have limited acceptance upon graduation and many employers do not recognize the degrees as credible. My experience with several non-profits show this to be true.

3. csteenburgh - June 14, 2010 at 11:29 am

gplm2000 - I don't know where to begin with your wholly uninformed comment.

First of all, your assertion that most GI Bill recipients can't get into a "real" college is insulting and utterly lacking in basis. That stereotype wasn't true in the 1980's when I was on active duty, and it certainly isn't true today. Today's men and women in the U.S. military are intelligent and capable, and the vast majority are "college ready."

Second, your claim that degrees from for-profit colleges "have limited acceptance" also lacks any basis whatsoever. My institution, National College, graduated over 2,100 students last year; more than three-quarters were employed in their field of study or a related field and using their degrees within three months of graduation. How many non-profit colleges can say that with any authority?

4. jjaneri - June 15, 2010 at 09:20 am

I agree csteenburgh. My husband, with his Masters in CS, just spent some time over the weekend, with a current Marine and the kid ran circles around him with his GPS knowledge. (My husband was one of the first people EVER to work on GPS.)

In my opinion, after spending time on tours, our heroes don't want to put up with the nonesense of keg stands, painting their faces for football games and dealing with door room drama. They want the degree and they want to get to work.

From what I am seeing, public universities can't seat the students that are applying already. Private universities have the ability to adapt and add staff, classes, building space as the need comes along.

5. chieflowe - June 15, 2010 at 09:25 am

I obtained my undergraduate degree through the Montgomery GI Bill at what was then Troy State University. I had a very good SAT score and an excellent GPA in the classes I had taken prior to launching my push to get a specific degree. The simple fact is that although I had alternatives, Troy actually offered support to veterans. It was also important that there were other veterans in my program. As I explored my options and spoke with other veterans, I found that although many schools had nice statements about welcoming and supporting veterans, they were not supportive or welcoming environments. I learned this first hand in graduate school. Welcoming veterans to any campus means that colleges and universities must understand that as undergraduates, they need a different experience than students who have just left home. The typically veteran is not your typically undergraduate. Why isn't there an effort to acknowledge and accommodate this fact. Far too many discussions on this website degrade into us versus them, be it conservative versus liberal or administration versus faculty. I am not suggesting an agenda, I am suggesting a limited understanding of why veterans make the educational choices they do. I am also suggesting that rather than make assumptions about veteran's preparedness, we should look at their motivations through an actual scientific process. The inclusion of veterans is an enhancement of campus diversity. It offers an altogether different perspective in and out of the classroom.

Also, as a clarification, the GI Bill is not a loan, it is grant and need not be repaid. It was paid for through service to our country.

6. vampyjess - June 15, 2010 at 09:39 am

I agree with jjaneri, it should be no surprise that veterns, who are most likely working adults, would flock to choices that other working adults do as well. These students make their decisions about school based on flexibility and goals, rather than prestige.
That being said not all community colleges, or even for-profits, are the same. Lamonte W. Mills is fortunate to live and learn in Virginia due to the fact that the two-year cc system is well-integrated for students who want to continue their education. In fact, if a student does well at a CC, then he or she is guaranteed admission into a four-year university with almost every credit transferring. It is not only cost-effective (as tution at cc is usually much cheaper than four-years), but it also gives students an opportunity to figure out if college is really for them or not.

7. handley - June 15, 2010 at 10:04 am

I work for a for-profit institution. I have repeatedly asked our admissions representatives to enroll more veterans. They are our best students: on time for class, homework done, dressed correctly, polite, no excuses, fantastic classroom participation. They set an excellent example for our less disciplined students.

I know I speak for my colleagues when I say it is an honor for us to serve those who have served our country.

8. cinnamonowl - June 15, 2010 at 10:14 am

CSteenburgh, as a veteran's spouse with immediate and extended family in three of the five armed forces (serving from the 1970s to the present), and someone who has worked and taught in higher ed for more than fifteen years, I must absolutely concur with gplm2000.

GPLM2000 *never* used the term "real college". He/she referred to marginally qualified students, and to the poor reputation of for-profits, which, since you have another dog in the fight there, seems to be what got your dander up.

As far as the preparation of your average enlisted person to enter a four year college - since some readers may not be aware that the GI Bill is only for enlisted people, not officers. Some young people serving do not even have high school diplomas (thousands - 15,000 between 2005-2007 according to USA Today - only earned their GED through special military completion programs). So how could you expect them to be ready to enter a rigorous program, regardless of whether it is hosted at a community college, or at a R1 institution?

I agree that veterans, like the majority of non-traditional students "returning" to school after a break or employment, are far more likely to be responsible and disciplined, and thus do better in school.

However, the reality is that the majority of students who are attracted to the armed forces, come from rural working class or urban working class backgrounds, which have underfunded school systems. Some were not particularly interested in the academic aspects of school and were looking for the athletic or working challenges of the military.

This of course, has nothing to do with their capabilities or their intelligence levels - the smartest people I have met in the military have overwhelmingly been enlisted NCOs. It does mean, however, that they are less likely to have gotten the preparation for college received by the traditional college-bound teenager, who is middle-class or upper-middle class and has helicopter parents.

My husband received his college degree and then enlisted as a sailor. He was appalled by the insulting way his Academy-degreed educational officer treated the learning needs of the enlisted crew members and their families, who had a perfect right to begin earning their own bachelor's degrees in their free time, or while underway. This is emblematic of deeper divisions in our society; while you may choose to see anti-military, anti-veteran feeling in GPLM2000's comment, I see someone who is telling the truth about the vast difference in educational preparation between classes in our society. It happens that the military tends to draw more of its members from the working class, which historically does not have the same access to educational preparation as, say, those who can afford montessori schools and Sylvan Learning Centers.

9. randyplunkett - June 15, 2010 at 11:21 am

The reason that veterans are reluctant to choose our state universities and private colleges is, frankly, they don't feel welcome there. When they are told that their ACE transcripted college credits are only worth 3 hours of physical education, is it any wonder they choose to go elsewhere? I am not sure, but I doubt many veterans at Phoenix, DeVry, or UMUC have been asked "Have you killed anybody?" That is a common question asked at large state institutions.

Veterans are superior students. They want to excel, get a degree, and get to work! It is incumbent upon EVERY college and university to examine their policies and practices with regard to veterans and each institution should actively recruit them! I am not sure why the Department of Labor recognized veterans as a protected class, and the Department of Education does not, but with their experience, maturity, and example, who would not want more veterans in their institution!

Veterans are as individual as the rest of our population. They WANT to attend state universities and ivy league schools. It is not so much a desire, as a policy and practice of the institutions that turns them off from even attempting to go to school at most of these places.

In 1947, there were so many veterans at the University of Illinois, the administration was forced to turn the Ice Rink into a dormatory, laying down sheets of plywood over the ice. Veterans assembled bunks and hunkered down to business. They were thrilled to be Illini! Today, sadly, there are only a handful of veterans there, not because of want, but because of policies and perhaps attitudes that cause them to feel they are not the brightest and best. They ARE!

10. pamhorne - June 15, 2010 at 06:21 pm

Talk to anyone who works with service men and women as they look at higher education opportunities while on active duty or while separating. The for-profits are being EXTREMELY aggressive recruiting these students -- whether the students are prepared for academic work or not. It's a very sweet way for the stockholders or private owners of these companies to make even more money -- directly from our tax dollars. The question really is -- could the veterans or active duty personnel have obtained an education that was less expensive, have more options than from schools that are regionally accredited, and actually finish degrees? There are strong sales (let's not even bother to call it recruitment) techniques, offers of free computers and books, etc. at play here and not everyone is ethical nor does the VA or military installations have enough resources to wisely counsel these students on all their options, costs, etc.

11. guinness4life - June 15, 2010 at 10:38 pm

gplm2000, your comment is offensive and uninformed. Most of the vets I've encountered who have attended college as a result of various assistance as a result of service were very qualified. The unqualified ones don't bother attending college.

4 year colleges do not offer very good night and distance programs and feel some sort of perverse pride in this fact. Despite pseudo-Marxist pretensions, universities are built to serve only the richest class of society, who are able to devote work hours to school. Also, military serviceman often have to interrupt studies mid-semester or may be moved. Many 4 year colleges don't adequately address this in their incomplete system. That's the better half of it.

The other problem is vehement anti-vet sentiments at many colleges across the country. It's real and it's there. What pamhorne said regarding marketing carries over into this. It's clear that LACs don't want vets' business. So they don't get it.

This may be one reason why colleges do an incredibly poor job of evaluating military transcripts and many don't even bother. There is no uniformity between schools. Even the different colleges in my university system evaluate these credits differently.

12. pennstateomr - June 16, 2010 at 08:31 am

The previous comments here are not so true of all state colleges. My unit at Penn State goes out of the way to make Veterans extremely welcome. It's true, Penn State has a demanding curriculum for anyone. (I spent 6 years on nuclear submarines before returning to another large state school, the University of South Carolina in Columbia and can attest to what it is like going back to school after time away).
Returning to school and remembering how to study is not an easy transition. Many of us that work at Penn State have similar backgrounds on acquiring our formal postsecondary education in addition to an understanding of adult learners and the challenges that we face. (I was one).
We address the problems and are very fortunate to have an administration that wholeheartedly supports adult learners and adult military learners. We go out of our way to make Veterans feel welcome. But... again, Penn State has a demanding curricula for a degree that will mean something all over the world.


13. rambo - June 16, 2010 at 09:30 am

not surprised. at many elite colleges and universities (from the Ivy league to Middlebury, veterans constantly challenged professors with PhDs but no real-world experiences about Islam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

14. vet_educator - June 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm

@ csteenburgh

While I agree that assuming that most vets are not ready for a 4 year institution is negative and somewhat false, I have to agree with gplm2000 in some regards as well. Your school, National College, is nationally accredited. This is a lower accreditation level than nearly all state schools, which are regionally accredited (it sounds backwards but regional accreditation is much higher in prestige and validity). Many state schools will not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited schools, and some employers are starting to deny recognition of degrees from these schools. Some states that require state certification will recognize degrees from nationally accredited schools, but simply refuse to hire their graduates.

The fact of the matter is that most for-profit and nationally accredited schools (which typically go hand-in-hand) will accept pretty much anyone that walks in off the street, and will maintain their enrollment as long as they have the cash or funding to shell out.

I don't have a link to the article on hand, but a while back a man named Daniel Golden wrote an excellent article on how for-profit schools habitually recruit students from homeless shelters and halfway houses because they're almost guaranteed financial aid recipients. These schools aren't heroic because they're vet friendly; they're greedy and know how to recruit people with free money to spend.

15. jaysanderson - June 16, 2010 at 04:43 pm

At my institution, veterans, adults, and 18 year olds alike are forced to attend silly ropes courses, team-building exercises, and pep rally-type activities. A 20 year old veteran isn't interested in playing freshman games, she wants to equip herself for work that will support a family and that brings satisfaction. Many adults with whom I speak tell me that they reluctantly attend the for-profits because we (NFPs) refuse to allow for differing academic needs. At my institution, the excuse is that none of the students know what they NEED, only we do. The silly adults only THINK they know what they need.

If we were more flexible and nimble, the for-profits would go out of business.

Finally, for the person who commented that the vets couldn't get into a real 4-yr school, please don't comment in ignorance. I have had the privilege to teach dozens of vets over the years, and they have always been the most motivated and serious of my students. I would teach a class full of veterans any semester.

16. willardstnw - June 17, 2010 at 05:36 pm

As an adjunct at University of Maryland University College [UMUC] teaching History of World Art online we try to build upon military skills and experiences.

For example, I encourage students presently or formerly deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan to make art from the "cradle of civilization" one of their Case Studies for their major Authentic Assessment project. One of those students expects to be vacationing in Berlin later this term. He is researching the Ishtar Gate, originally from Babylonia, and now in a Museum in Berlin, which he examine before submitting his paper later this summer. Some other military students have selected military monuments for their Case Studies including the Palette of King Narmer from ancient Egypt, the Arch of Constantine from classical Rome, the Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic) from Hellenistic Greece, and the Bayeux Tapestry from medieval France.

Since our classes are integrated it is particularly enlightening to follow the informal interactions between military who have often traveled the world, and civilians, some of who haven't yet traveled beyond their home and maybe Disney World or Las Vegas.

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