May 30, 2016

Discovering the best colleges for our veterans

Old Dominion University
With a little help from the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched an “improved” version of the GI Bill Comparison Tool, designed to make it easier for veterans, service members and dependents to estimate education benefits and to learn more about approved college, university and other education training programs across the country.

While the Comparison Tool is still a work in progress, it does create an opportunity to conduct research that is more targeted to veterans. The information provided on a college-by-college basis includes the number of GI Bill students on campus, the availability of veterans support groups and a compilation of various outcomes such as retention, graduation, salaries and loan repayment rates.\

And the information comes from that which is collected annually by the federal government.

Anyone working regularly with College Navigator, a wonderful free college search tool supported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), will have noticed a new subcategory covering programs for service members and vets.  This data establishes the basis for the Comparison Tool plus a little more. It includes very valuable links to college-specific tuition policies for veterans as well as bar charts illustrating the number of students receiving benefits/assistance within a specific institution, the average amount of benefits awarded through the institution and retention rates for first time, degree/certificate education benefit users pursuing bachelor’s degrees. 

According to the VA, the updated version of the Comparison Tool not only reformats the federal data, but also has new functionality including a “more robust” GI Bill benefits calculator and additional information of interest to veterans. Specifically, the calculator provides a personalized estimate of Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition and fee, housing allowance, and book stipend benefits that would potentially be paid to the student.

Something like 5 million post-9/11 service members are expected to transition out of the military by 2020.  Since the enactment of the Post 9/11 GI Bill in 2008, the United States has invested over $42 billion on educating many of these transitioning service members.

According to the American Council on Education, about four percent of all undergraduates are veterans.  The VA estimates that 73 percent to 80 percent of student veterans are male, and 21 percent to 27 percent are female. On average, at the start of their postsecondary education, vets are 25 years old.  Of these, 77 percent attend a college located less than 100 miles from home and 44 percent are in bachelor’s degree programs.  One in five veterans major in STEM fields, and 42 percent work full time (excluding work study).

In other words, vets make up a large, diverse, and growing market for colleges and universities across the U.S.

To help veterans make informed decisions about where to spend their education dollars, two very different organizations using two slightly different sets of criteria have developed lists of the best colleges and universities for vets.

Using results compiled from surveying hundreds of colleges, MONEY rated institutions on issues “uniquely” important to veterans including Yellow Ribbon participation and staff support as well as educational quality, affordability and student outcomes.  The list features 25 schools that not only deliver great value for students but also provide resources designed to help vets succeed. Here are the top five:
  • University of South Florida
  • Rutgers-New Brunswick, NJ
  • Stockton University, NJ
  • Cal State San Bernardino, CA
  • University of Kansas
The Military Times developed its list by probing everything from the availability of a veterans office to academic support and graduation rates.  Their top 20 ranking is as follows:
  • University of Nebraska-Omaha
  • University of South Florida
  • Eastern Kentucky University
  • D’Youville College, NY
  • Rutgers University—New Brunswick, NJ
  • Stockton University, NJ
  • Armstrong State University, Ga
  • Cal State San Bernardino, CA
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • University of Kansas
  • San Diego State University, CA
  • South Dakota State University
  • Colorado State University
  • Lewis University, IL
  • Western Illinois University
  • University of Texas at Arlington
  • Western Kentucky University
  • CUNY John Jay College, NY
  • St. Petersburg College, FL
  • University of Texas at El Paso
Local schools earning spots on the Best for Vets list include Old Dominion University, George Washington University, and Marymount University.

The important take-away for veterans is that there are many different affordable opportunities available for them to earn degrees and succeed at rates similar to the traditional college-going population. You just have to do a little research using readily available tools.

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