Jul 31, 2017

One way to say ‘thank you’: Veteran-friendly colleges and universities

Amherst College War Memorial
One of the ways in which a grateful country says “thank you” to those who have served is by continuing to invest in educational benefits targeted to veterans and their families.

And with support from the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the GI Bill Comparison Tool designed to make it easier for veterans, service members and their dependents to calculate these benefits and learn more about approved college, university and other post-secondary education training programs.

The GI Bill Comparison Tool draws on information from more than 17 online sources and the three cooperating federal agencies to provide key information about cost and quality of education.  Data delivered 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.

According to the VA, the current 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.

Anyone who has worked with with College Navigator, a wonderful free college search tool supported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), will be familiar with a series of dropdown charts covering programs for service members and vets.  This data forms part of the basis for the Comparison Tool plus a little more. For example, it includes 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.

Roughly 1.3 million men and women served in the military in 2016, and a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates there are over 21 million veterans of the armed forces currently living in every corner of the country and abroad.

And these veterans are returning to school in significant numbers. The American Council on Education reports that 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, the Military Times annually evaluates four-year degree-granting institutions for its Best for Vets ranking of colleges and universities. To be considered, colleges had to complete a detailed 150-question survey. Rankings were then based on survey responses as well as on data collected via the Comparison Tool.

The top-20 ranking for 2017 is as follows:
  • University of South Florida, FL
  • Rutgers University, NJ
  • Syracuse University, NY
  • Armstrong State University, GA
  • D’Youville College, NY
  • Colorado State University, CO
  • Georgia State University, GA
  • South Dakota State University, SD
  • University of Nebraska at Omaha, NE
  • University of Kansas, KS
  • Florida State University, FL
  • Lipscomb University, TN
  • Western Illinois University, IL
  • Western Kentucky University, KY
  • University of Southern Mississippi, MS
  • Stockton University, NJ
  • Eastern Kentucky University, KY
  • California State University, San Bernardino, CA
  • Northwest Nazarene University, ID
  • University of Texas at Arlington, TX
As is usually the case, this ranking is  based on a weighting of select metrics and should be considered only in the context of other relevant sources of information. But the important take-away for veterans and their families 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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