The Cost of Military Education Benefits

Military spouse and volunteer contributor Nadeen Wincapaw suggests reforming U.S. military education programs could be one method towards Building a capable and fiscally responsible military — one of the five points of our Provide for the Common Defense petition, which you can sign here.  She writes the following:

“Money for college remains one of the most successful recruitment tools for the U.S. military. Higher education benefits have expanded into several programs costing nearly $16 billion a year (as of 2015). Active duty personnel are offered a G.I. Bill to be used once they leave the military, which is administered by the Veterans Administration. A parallel program offers tuition assistance for those currently serving as well. Tuition assistance is administered by the individual services of the Department of Defense, and provides up to $250 per credit hour for classes in addition to the G.I. Bill. As of 2012, tuition assistance alone has helped over 286,000 service members achieve a college degree without dipping into their G.I. Bill.

My husband was one of those 286,000 who used tuition assistance to acquire his Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Add to that all the service-related schools and training that he has completed over his 20 year career, and you have one very educated man. But using the benefits available on active duty meant his G.I. Bill would have gone to waste had he not been given the option to transfer them to his family members. In 2011, he transferred his G.I. Bill to me (his wife) and I completed my MBA. The option to transfer a service member’s G.I. Bill to his/her family is a recent expansion of the program that was remarkably easy to accomplish (a rarity when dealing with the Department of Defense).

Having these benefits available definitely helped our family because our household budget could not absorb the costs of continuing our education. My husband completed his Master’s Degree while he was a Lieutenant and Captain. At that time, we had three young children and I did not work, so tuition assistance allowed him to finish a degree that he would need to progress in rank without taking up massive amounts of financial resources. I worked on my MBA from 2011 through 2014; and at that time, two of our children were also attending college, so finances were tight then as well. Had the G.I. Bill not paid for my degree, it would not have happened. As a spouse that has had to move every two years, my experience is not exactly a shining light on my resume for potential employers.

Our country, however, is in financial trouble and some tough choices need to be made. There are viable solutions other than the two extremes, i.e. slashing of the Defense budget or the refusal to touch a penny.  Smart cuts and reorganization can save money without hurting morale.  Duplicate programs are the best place to begin; and, as much as it pains me to say it, the G.I. Bill and the co-existing tuition assistance programs are a duplications of one another. In my opinion, one or the other should be phased out or provide for the nullification of one benefit if the other is used. The Department of Defense attempted to do away with tuition assistance in 2013; but they abruptly cut off funding without warning. Students and institutions were caught mid-term without time to plan, budget, or make other arrangements, so the Department of Defense restored the benefit and allowed the services to reorganize their guidelines to accommodate cuts in the budget. Such an ambitious cutback cannot be so poorly implemented in the future.

In the end, Congress could consider reforming the education benefits system in order to promote cost-effective service incentives, while maintaining an effective fighting force.”

We want to thank Nadeen for her contribution and her service to our country has a active duty spouse.  Always remember to thank spouses and military families for the sacrifices they make in defense of our country.

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  1. Bill Carson says:

    Isn’t there a cap to the GI bill? How long you can use it vs TA which is valid as long as one serves. Also the coverage is significantly different and both benefits serve different purposes.