Know Your Benefits, Make a plan: Higher Education A Reality For Service Members, Veterans
“Well, I joined so I could have a way to pay for college.”—Members of our military have been known to say this for years.
Reports vary, but generally reveal that for various reasons most eligible military service members and veterans never take advantage of the educational benefits available to them. In some cases they may discover they don’t have time, or don’t make the time in a busy schedule, to pursue college courses while simultaneously serving in the military. In other cases their goals may simply change over time or they perceive college as being outright cost prohibitive. In others it may simply be that the process and the information is all too confusing and they simply don’t want the hassle of trying to figure it all out.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that in school year 2003-04 the average cost of tuition, fees and room and board rates for all 4-year colleges (public and private combined) was $15, 504. It doesn’t take a math major to see that with those costs, attending a four year school until graduation can cost as much as $60,000 on average. With a little digging on the Internet one can discover that the Montgomery G.I. Bill will pay up to approximately $38,000 worth of education benefits, depending on individual duty status and eligibility. Right away, the same math major can come up with a predictable shortfall in financing a higher education.
The military student may have a bit of an advantage given the myriad of programs and benefits available to fund their education, but the best advice for active duty, reserve/Guard and veterans researching ways to pay for their education is to encourage them to seek out an education counselor. All services (Army, Navy, etc.) have counselors and programs with the sole purpose of assisting service members in reaching their educational goals and helping them identify the best sources of financing their dreams. These counselors and programs can help them identify all the other education benefit programs available for active duty, Guard/Reserve members and veterans through the various service education assistance agencies, the VA and state level programs.
In addition to these services and benefits available from the military there are Web sites for military personnel such as Army.com that have educational articles touching on a variety of options to pay for college including the GI Bill, Enlistment Bonuses, Private Student Loans, and Student Loan Debt Consolidation. Also included on this site is a number of forms to request additional information, have a military recruiter contact you, and to pre-qualify for a Private Student Loan or Student Debt Consolidation Loan.
The bottom line is typically this: a typical service member or veteran will have to muster some funding on his/her own to pay for their education at some point along the way. That’s where grants, scholarships and student loans fit into the equation.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study supports this statement. Data from the study shows that 63 percent of all undergraduate students in the nation received some type of financial aid in school year 2003-04 with approximately one-half receiving grants and another third taking out student loans. The average grant amount was less than the average loan amount at $4,000 and $5,800 respectively.
Military students like all other students must become savvy with all their options—veteran benefits, grants/scholarships, and student loans. By researching all the information and resources available, they will be better prepared to set goals for their education and develop sound financial plans to accomplish them.