Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Benefits Cut (Updated for FY14)

The Department of Defense (DoD) is scrambling to find ways to cut budgets and save money. And each branch within the DoD is scrambling to do the same thing. The DoD as a whole is tasked with cutting over $50 billion a year from budgets due to the sequestration requirements. Within this larger goal, each branch is being asked to do its part.

Most branches have made cuts to operations, training, maintenance, and other mission goals. The Coast Guard is taking it a step further and reducing benefits to their troops by reducing their Tuition Assistance Benefits from 100% of tuition, to a 75% / 25% split between the Coast Guard and the student. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The Coast Guard has reinstated the “Cost-sharing” Tuition Assistance program that was in place military-wide prior to 2002, when the military began offering a 100% Tuition Assistance program, up to a cap per semester hour, and an annual limit per student.

2014 Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Benefits Cut

The following rates are effective immediately, and are in place from October 1, 2013, through September 30, 2014. The rates after that will depend on the approved Coast Guard budget.

2014 Tuition Assistance Rates: Effective immediately, the Coast Guard will fund 75% of the tuition cost of members not to exceed $187.50 per credit hour, for active duty military members eligible for Tuition Assistance. The new annual cap for the Coast Guards share of TA is $2,250 (75% of $3,000). Coast Guard members are responsible for any tuition above the $187.50 per credit hour limit.

Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Eligibility

Tuition Assistance eligibility has undergone a few changes as well, similar to those recently enacted by the Air Force and Marines. TA is available to Coast Guardsmen who meet the following criteria:

  • Member must be on Active Duty or a Reservist on long-term orders greater than 180 days,
  • Members are limited to six credit hours per fiscal quarter. Credit hours are counted from course start dates.
  • Members must meet the additional following criteria: (1) Satisfactory progress toward completion of unit qualifications, (2) Satisfactory progress toward watch station qualifications, (3) Satisfactory proficiency of craft, and (4) Satisfactory conduct during the six months prior.

Eligible Study Programs: Tuition Assistance is only available for Coast Guardsmen seeking their first degree at the Associate and Bachelor levels. TA will not be granted for coursework at the same level or lower than a degree already possessed by the student. In other words, you can use TA to achieve an Associates or Bachelors Degree if you do not already have a degree at that level, but you can’t use TA to achieve a second degree at the same level.

Tuition Assistance is not available for those seeking a Masters Degree. Several other services have exceptions for these rules for certain mission essential training, but I couldn’t find any exceptions on the Coast Guard site. You will need to contact your Education Service Officer for more information about the possibility of exceptions.

Who is not eligible for Tuition Assistance benefits: According to the All Hands Blog, the official Coast Guard Workforce site, “Tuition assistance benefits will not be extended to civilian employees, Coast Guard Reservists in a drilling status and those active duty Coast Guardsmen pursuing a graduate degree or another degree at the same level which they already possess. Additionally, tuition assistance will not be available to active duty members who do not demonstrate satisfactory progress toward watch station qualifications, sufficient proficiency of craft and good conduct.”

Here is the new Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Policy.

Reasons for These Tuition Assistance Changes

The primary reason for the changes is the budget. Each branch of service has been tasked with doing more with less. This means reallocating dollars where leadership sees the greatest impact. Limiting the TA benefits to Associates and Bachelors level courses means that most of the Tuition Assistance benefits will go to junior and senior enlisted members, which is where the Coast Guard sees the greatest potential for long term impact.

According to the All Hands Blog, “Coast Guard leaders believe junior enlisted members have the most potential for growth, the longest potential time horizon and the least financial resources. The cost-share program helps these members be competitive for officer selection programs and contributes to their success as senior enlisted members by supporting them in obtaining an undergraduate degree.”

Alternative Funding Sources for Coast Guard Members

A reduction in Tuition Assistance benefits doesn’t mean Coast Guardsmen won’t be able to achieve their educational goals. It just means they need to be a little more creative when planning their course work. For example, Coast Guardsmen are still eligible to take CLEP and DANTES courses. These credit by examination courses are free and offer college credit upon passing. These exams played a large role when I achieved my degree while on active duty. Many institutions of higher education also offer credits for military service, potentially eliminating some required coursework en route to achieving a degree.

Additional funding sources for college credits include utilizing the Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill, scholarships, grants, and other tuition assistance programs.

US Marine Corps Tuition Assistance Benefits (Updated for FY 2014)

Education and training rate among the most cherished military benefits. The most well-known program, of course, is the GI Bill, which most military members in good standing qualify to receive after serving a short period on active duty. But the GI Bill is actually more valuable to most service members after they separate from the military. The good news is each service offers Tuition Assistance benefits to their active duty members. And the benefits are quite good—I used tuition assistance benefits to take classes on active duty while I was in the US Air Force. Between Tuition Assistance and testing out of classes, I was able to achieve my degree in less time than I could have if I would have taken classes at a traditional college.

The US Marine Corps offers similar Tuition Assistance (TA)  benefits as the Air Force (which I used when I was on active duty). However, there may be some slight differences on the administrative side. For example, the Air Force just made a few changes to their TA program, as Airmen are now required to receive permission from their supervisor to take classes. Let’s take a look at the current Tuition Assistance benefits for Marines.

US Marine Corps Tuition Assistance Benefits

US Marine Corps Tuition Assistance Benefits

USMC Tuition Assistance

The US Marine Corps Tuition Assistance Program, also known as the Marine Corps Lifelong Learning Program, has similar limits per semester or quarter hour of credit, and per fiscal year as the Tuition Assistance Programs in the other branches of service.

Here is the maximum amount paid for Marine Corps Tuition Assistance: 100% Tuition and Fees, not to exceed:

  • $250 per Semester Credit Hour, or
  • $166 per Quarter Credit Hour, and
  • $4500 per Fiscal Year

Does your Tuition exceed your Tuition Assistance Limits? You still have options. The numbers above only reflect the limits TA will pay. You can often find ways to make it work with the school, or by using partial GI Bill benefits as payment. For example, here are some ways you can make TA pay for all your tuition and fees:

  • Many schools will reduce tuition costs to match the maximum Tuition Assistance benefit for active duty military members. This is more common for colleges and universities in military communities, and usually only for undergrad work.
  • Many military members can qualify for military scholarships, scholarships through the school, or a scholarship through a military service organization.
  • Grants may be available to some service members, including the Pell Grant, which is offered by the federal government.
  • You can use the GI Bill to pay for any difference in tuition costs. Using the GI Bill in conjunction with Tuition Assistance usually only takes up a partial month of GI Bill benefits, as you are only using it to “Top Up” your TA to pay the difference.

Marine Corps Tuition Assistance Eligibility

Each military branch has different eligibility requirements. As noted above, the Air Force requires Airmen to receive their supervisor’s permission before signing up for TA benefits (along with a few other eligibility rules). The Marine Corps has similar requirements for Marines. Here is the latest list, from the US Marines’ website:

2. Additional TA eligibility criteria.  TA is discretionary.  An Education Service Officer (ESO) and education support personnel are available at all installations to assist Marines in developing personal and professional education plans and to make informed academic institution selections that support their education goals.  Command approval of TA is contingent upon the command’s anticipated mission requirements.  Marines shall meet appropriate standards and eligibility criteria, contained herein and Ref A and B, prior to authorization of TA:

(a)  First time active duty TA applicants shall have a minimum time in service of 24 months.
(b)  all Marines shall be eligible for promotion per Ref B.
(c)  prior to TA approval, first-time TA applicants shall complete the Marine Corps institute “leadership” (Course ID 8012b) and personal financial management (Course ID 3420f).
(d) TA shall be authorized for first-time TA applicants for only one course, unless documentation is provided that the Marine has at least an associate’s degree or at least sixty (60) academic credits and a minimum GPA of 2.5.
(e) TA shall not be authorized for classes that begin prior to the conclusion of a previously approved course.
(f)  TA funds for approved involuntary withdrawal waivers and failed courses will count toward the individual fiscal year ceilings.
(g)  TA shall be authorized for only one course in the succeeding academic term in the event that, (1) overall GPA falls below 2.5, (2) a “D” is received in any course during the previous term, or (3) a voluntary withdrawal occurs from any courses that occurred during the previous term.
(h)  first-time TA users with a general technical score of less than 100 shall be required to take the test of adult basic education and earn an examination score of at least 10.2.
(i) TA shall not be approved retroactively.  TA applications must be submitted and command approved prior to the requested course start date.
(j) course work with a start date between 15 and 30 September must be command approved by 12 September 2014.
(k) career and technical education certificate programs must be accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the department of education, be approved by the department of veteran’s administration, and have a signed DoD memorandum of understanding in order to receive tuition assistance.
(l) TA shall not be authorized for duplicate degrees (e.g., second associate degree) or double majors.
(m) open issues in Marine TA accounts, including incomplete courses, reimbursement issues, and waivers, must be resolved and posted to the student record prior to approval of future ta requests.
(n) TA cannot be utilized for fees related to certifications, license exams, or credentials.
(o)  in addition to the requirements for officers in Reference A, reserve component officers on active duty orders/mobilization must have an end of active duty status (EAS) date of two years beyond the completion date of the requested class in order to be approved for TA.
(p)  enlisted Marines must have an EAS of 60 days beyond the completion date of the course in order to be approved for TA.
(q) TA shall not be authorized for non-credit courses, training programs or programs under continuing education or workforce development.  Marines are not eligible to utilize TA for MOS required training, and Marines shall not be approved for TA while in a training status.
(r)  Marines attending vocational/technical certificate programs with more than one class or module will only be approved TA for two classes or modules at a time.

3.  TA funding management.  As of 1 October 2013, the Marine Corps TA funding budget will be divided into fiscal quarters.  Once quarterly funds are exhausted, TA approvals will be deferred until the following quarter.   When TA funds are available, approvals will be contingent upon the Marine meeting all eligibility requirements and will be limited to classes that begin during that quarter.  For example, a class that begins on 15 January 2014 will not be approved for TA until 1 January 2014 and will be funded with available FY14 second quarter funds.  TA requests can only be submitted within 30 days of the start date of the class.

Thoughts on Marine Corps TA Eligibility and Restrictions

The Marine Corps has some rigid restrictions on Tuition Assistance eligibility, but it’s important to remember why TA is there in the first place. Yes, it’s a great benefit for active duty Marines, and it’s an excellent recruiting tool. But at the end of the day, the main reason is to make the Marines a better fighting force. Education is a great way to enhance the total education of the Corps, and in doing so, improve total force capability. Most of the restrictions that are in place are there to ensure the limited Tuition assistance dollars go where the Marine Corps can best see the benefits of their investments in their troops. (Remember, it wasn’t long ago when the Sequestration forced most military branches to pause TA benefits).

The limited funds are why Marines need 24 months time in service before they are eligible to participate in the Tuition Assistance program. Similarly, the Marine Corps wants to makes sure their Marines are focused on upgrade training, which explains why Marines aren’t eligible for TA when they are currently in military training (you will find this in each branch). Finally, The Marines and other services limit Tuition Assistance benefits to one of each type of degree, unless it meets mission requirements.

Overall, there are some limitations to the program, but none that are difficult to achieve if you are in good standing, and none that are unreasonable. If you are in the Marines, I encourage you too look into this benefit. This is one of the best deals going.

Air Force Tuition Assistance Benefits (Updated for FY 2014)

The military is well-known for offering its troops the opportunity to go to school. Education is often among the top reasons many people choose to enlist in the military. Education benefits were certainly one of the reason I chose to enlist in the Air Force, and I used the Tuition Assistance program to get my degree while on active duty. I also tested out of many classes en route to achieving my degree.

Being able to achieve my Bachelor’s Degree while serving on active duty was huge for me, because it gave me options when my enlistment was up. I had the choice to reenlist, try to go for Officer Training School (OTS), or I could separate from active duty, knowing that I had a four-year degree and real world experience. Each person’s situation is unique, but at that point in my life, I decided to separate from the military so I could start my life in the civilian world.

Because I used Tuition Assistance benefits to obtain my degree, I still have the Post 9/11 G Bill if I want to go back to school to get a different degree, or if I want to go for a Master’s Degree. In other words, Tuition Assistance benefits were extremely valuable to me because they saved me a lot of time and money, and helped me hit the ground running after I separated from active duty.

If you are in the US Air Force, or are thinking about joining, then I strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with the Air Force Tuition Assistance Benefits. You can do a lot to advance your career by obtaining your Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) degree, build obtain a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree, apply to OTS, or simply take classes you enjoy. The best part is that you can take these classes while you are in the service to get ahead of the curve when you separate, whether that is after your first term, or if you make the Air Force a career.

Air Force Tuition Assistance Benefits

Here are the current Air Force Tuition Assistance benefits:

The maximum amount paid for Tuition Assistance: 100% Tuition and Fees, not to exceed:

  • $250 per Semester Credit Hour, or
  • $166 per Quarter Credit Hour, and
  • $4500 per Fiscal Year

What if your tuition costs more than the limit? $250 a semester hour is enough for most community colleges and state schools. Don’t worry too much if your chosen school charges more per semester hour. Many other universities, particularly those near military installations, will reduce the tuition costs for active duty military members to fall in line with current Tuition Assistance rates. You may also be able to qualify for for grants such as the Pell Grant, or you may be able to qualify for military scholarships through the school, or through other organizations. Finally, you can use your GI Bill to cover any difference in the cost of tuition so you don’t have to spend anything out of pocket. If you choose not to use your GI Bill, you can pay out of pocket. The good news is that using your GI Bill only counts toward a prorated portion of your monthly benefit if you are only using it to top-up your Tuition Assistance.

Applying for Tuition Assistance Benefits

You will need to visit your Education Center or apply online through the Air Force Virtual Education Center in the Air Force Portal.There are certain instances when you may not be able to apply for TA benefits online. These include: missing personal data in your education record, not having a degree plan on record, requesting Tuition Assistance for courses that have already started or are more than 30 days in the future, missing grades for courses you completed over 60 days ago, or requesting Tuition Assistance for course work in a degree plan lower than your highest awarded degree (see next section).

Limitations on usage. Tuition Assistance is designed to help Airmen achieve certain degrees and education levels and at the base level, it is designed to benefit the Air Force. Because of this, you can only use Tuition Assistance benefits to achieve a degree higher than your current degree. For example, you cannot use the Tuition Assistance program to achieve a second Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s degree.

There are some exceptions to this rule. You can always use Tuition Assistance to achieve another CCAF degree, regardless of your current degree level. You can also use Tuition Assistance to achieve an Associate’s Degree from a civilian college if you already have your CCAF, provided your civilian Associate’s is in a different subject and you do not already have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. Finally, you may be eligible to obtain a second Master’s Degree if it is on an approved list of critical education programs. Some examples of critical education programs include certain graduate foreign language/affairs programs and cyber law master’s degrees.

Tuition Assistance is also limited to Master’s Degree level courses. There are other ways to get the Air Force to pay for post-graduate course or doctoral degrees, but these are generally specialized programs and highly competitive. You will need to contact your education office for a list of current programs for this level of education. Keep in mind, you may incur a service commitment for this type of training.

Limitations on participation. Keep in mind, there may be some exceptions to being able to use Tuition Assistance Benefits. These benefits are generally open to all active duty members, but your personal or professional circumstances may temporarily prevent you from being able to use the benefits. For example, you generally cannot use Tuition Assistance benefits while you are in a formal training environment such as Basic Military Training, OTS, tech school, Professional Military Education (PME), Squadron Officer School, etc.

Changes to Air Force Tuition Assistance Benefits

It’s no secret that our government is facing budget cuts, which have extended to the Department of Defense (DoD), and each of the respective military branches. In the last year, we have seen the cancellation of many military benefits programs due to sequestration and various budget cuts. Tuition Assistance was one of the more popular programs that was temporarily suspended, then later reinstated. The DoD brought back tuition assistance for each branch of service, but the Air Force made a couple changes that may affect the ability of some Airmen to take classes. Here are the main changes, starting in FY14 (source for new rules: AF.mil):

Supervisor approval is required to receive Tuition Assistance Benefits. Supervisors may decline permission for any of the following reasons:

  • The Airmen is in any level of upgrade training,
  • The Airman will be TDY or will be PCSing during the academic term,
  • The Airman is enrolled in PME,
  • or for any other factors the supervisor determines would impede the Airman’s ability to complete the course.

Airmen who fail to meet Air Force standards may also be ineligible to use Tuition Assistance benefits. Some examples include:

  • Airmen who have unfavorable information files,
  • Airmen who failed/overdue physical fitness testing,and
  • Airmen who received referral performance reports or are on a control roster will automatically be denied.

The rules on this page pertain to Active Duty Airmen, or activated Guard and Reserve members. Members of the traditional Guard and Reserves have different Tuition Assistance benefits rules and eligibility which will be covered in a different article.

How to Pay for School When You Run out of GI Bill Benefits

The GI Bill is one of the most valuable benefits veterans have available to them when the separate from the military. The GI Bill can go a long way toward helping veterans earn their degree, and with that, the opportunity to increase your income potential. But the GI Bill doesn’t always offer enough benefits to complete a college degree. The high cost of college can be a contributing factor. But that isn’t the only reason, especially for veterans who are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which covers tuition up to the cost of the most expensive state school. The biggest limitation with the GI Bill is the amount of benefits, which are capped at 36 months. It is possible to complete a college degree before you run out of GI Bill benefits, but sometimes it can be incredibly difficult, especially for those working on more advanced degrees.

how to pay for school when you run out of gi bill benefitsBefore we start: there are two primary versions of the GI Bill available to active duty veterans and some Guard/Reserve members: the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, or GI Bill 2.0. (Some Guard and Reserve members are eligible for these programs based on their service record, while other Guard and Reserve members may be eligible for different GI Bill programs). It’s important to note the difference in these benefits to understand how to use them to your advantage.

The Montgomery GI Bill offers veterans a flat monthly stipend that is paid directly to them each month based on the number of hours of school they are attending. That is not the case for veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The payment for classes goes directly to the  university, with a housing and book stipend going to the student. This difference is important when paying for and completing your degree.

Tips to Complete Your Degree with the GI Bill

The goal, of course, is to complete your degree while you still have GI Bill benefits available. Doing so will minimize your out of pocket expenses and help you get back into the work force in a minimal amount of time. Completing your degree within the benefits period requires a plan and hard work. But it can be accomplished. Here are some tips:

Load up on classes each term. The more classes you take each term, the more quickly you will complete your degree. The downside on loading up on classes with the MGIB is that the monthly benefit is capped for full-time students. Students are required to pay for their classes out of their own pockets, and if their classes are more expensive than their MGIB benefits, they are forced to pay on their own. The Post-9/11 GI Bill works differently because payments are sent directly to the school. In this case, students can load up on classes and the courses will be paid for with the Post-9/11 GI Bill. 12 hours is considered a full time course load at most universities. Students can complete their degree more quickly if they take 15, or even 18 hours per term. This requires more work and balance, but it can save students a lot of time and money in the long run.

Use both the MGIB and Post-9/11. Many veterans bought into the Montgomery GI Bill when they were in the military. If you are also eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill based on your service dates, you can use this to your advantage. You can use all of your MGIB benefits, then apply to transfer to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. You won’t be able to use all 36 months of the MGIB, then all 36 months of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Instead, you can use the entire MGIB, then get up to one year of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. In a way, it’s a loophole, but it’s one that you can use to your advantage.

Test out of classes. Many colleges give students credit for life experience, military experience, or for testing out of courses. I highly recommend researching these options and taking advantage of them whenever possible. I tested out of a year of school when I completed my degree. It saved me a ton of time and money and enabled me to complete my degree while on active duty. Not all schools accept these tests or credits, so be sure to plan your path with a guidance counselor before spending too much time testing out of classes.

Use tuition assistance. The more classes you take while on active duty, the fewer classes you have to take after you separate from the military. If you have the ability, try to take some classes while you are still serving. Each branch of the service offers their troops a tuition assistance program. Start with the basic courses such as English Comp, history, economics, and other courses which are a part of almost every degree plan. It’s possible that not all classes will be transferable, but the odds of them being transferable are much higher if you complete at least an Associate’s Degree. These will reduce the time you need to complete your degree, and reduce your reliance upon the GI Bill.

Paying for College When You Run Out of GI Bill Benefits

All of the above tips are nice, but they aren’t always realistic for every student. Difficulty of courses, scheduling, family requirements, and other factors may make it difficult to load up on classes each term. Some colleges don’t accept many transfer courses or won’t allow you to test out of courses, and many military members aren’t able to take classes while on active duty. To top it off, many people change their degree program a year or more into school. Whatever the reason, there are some options to pay for your school when you run out of GI Bill benefits. But it will take a little creativity.

Understand how long your benefits are good for. GI Bill benefits are typically good for 36 months worth of classes. The MGIB is good for 10 years after separating from the military, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t expire until you have been out of the service for 15 years. If you are running upon your time limit for the MGIB, you may be able to transfer your benefits to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and extend the amount of time you have to use your education benefits.

Seek out other scholarships, financial aid, and veterans educational benefits. The first step is to see if you are eligible for any scholarships or financial aid, including grants such as the Pell Grant. The next option is to look at state benefits. Many states offer education benefits for veterans. For example, Texas has the Hazelwood Act which extends educational benefits at state colleges to veterans who enlisted in the state of Texas. Illinois, and several other states have similar programs.

Get a MGIB Refund. The Montgomery GI Bill requires eligible veterans to buy into the program at a cost of $1,200. The Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t have a buy-in requirement. If you are eligible for the program, you can use the benefits without paying anything into the program. If you use your entire Post-9/11 GI Bill, you can apply for a refund for the MGIB, which will be paid to you in a prorated amount based on the amount of MGIB benefits you used. For example, if you bought into the MGIB, didn’t use any of it, then you used your entire Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, you would receive the full $1,200 refund. To qualify, you must use your entire Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. More info about GI Bill refunds.

Guard and Reserve educational benefits may be worth researching. Another option would be to look into serving an additional term in the Guard or Reserve, which might help pay for college. Some states offer free state college courses when you serve in the National Guard or Air National Guard. Some states also only require a minimal commitment, depending on their needs, your career field and rank, and other factors.

Look into placement programs or government reimbursements. Troops to Teachers is a program that will help military veterans earn a teaching degree in exchange for agreeing to teach classes in a low income area for a certain period of time. There are also government grants and opportunities that will help pay students for their college courses. In return, you usually need to commit to working for a set time period.

Other tips to pay for school. You may be able to defray college expenses by working as a Resident Advisor. Many schools provide free room and board for RAs. Work study programs are another way you can earn money while attending school.

Student loans. The last option that I can think of is to take out student loans. I know most people want to avoid student loans, and that is recommended whenever possible but sometimes that is the best option you may have available to you.

It takes creativity, but you can pay for college when you run out of GI Bill benefits. Do you have any other tips?

Use the GI Bill for Licenses and Certifications

If you recently served and left the military you are entitled to education benefits under two methods: the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Post-9/11 Bill provides education and housing assistance for specific situations as long as you had 90 days of aggregate service (or 30 days if you were discharged for a service-related disability) and received an honorable discharge. The Montgomery GI Bill has been around longer and offers slightly different benefits.

Use your GI Bill for Licenses and CertificationsHopefully you already knew about the GI Bill and have considered using it to go back to college. The Post-9/11 Bill is quite generous: paying for full tuition and fees for in-state students at public schools. Even students going to private schools may receive higher tuition reimbursement. Plus you get a stipend for books and supplies and a housing allowance.

But what if college isn’t in your plans? What if you would rather build on some of the skills you picked up in the military and take your life down a career trade path?

Thankfully the GI Bill offers you the ability to get licenses and certifications through the program as well. You don’t have to just go to a four-year university now.

How to Use the GI Bill to Get Licenses and Certifications

Take time to research all of your options. Making the wrong choice can cost you a ton of money in benefits lost.

Decide Which GI Bill You Want to Use

First, you must decide which GI Bill you are going to use. This is a critical choice that cannot be changed so spend a lot of time researching your options and which direction you want to go. If you elect for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and change your mind, you won’t be able to switch to the Montgomery GI Bill.

Montgomery GI Bill Licensing and Certification Benefit

For certifications and licensing the Montgomery GI Bill may be a better choice. The bill pays for both accredited training courses and the actual certification test costs. Another perk: you can get reimbursed even if you do not pass the test and need to re-test as long as you have enough benefit remaining. You can be reimbursed up to $2,000 per certification test up to the cost of the test.

Post-9/11 GI Bill Licensing and Certification Benefit

The key difference with the Post-9/11 GI Bill is accredited training costs are no longer covered. Your test is also only covered if you pass the test. Essentially the Montgomery bill will pay for you to go to training classes in preparation for the test and even reimburse the cost of the test if you fail. The Post-9/11 bill requires better performance and for you to take training on yourself. You don’t get reimbursed if you don’t pass the test. Like the Montgomery GI Bill, this bill will reimburse up to $2,000 per certification test up to the cost of the test.

Avoid Scams and Work Only with VA-Approved Companies

A sad fact in our country is that there is a lot of money to be unethically made my ripping off veterans. You might think it would be difficult to put yourself into a financial bind since the government is paying for everything, but you might end up signing papers that say if the government doesn’t pay then you will.

Avoid all that mess by only working with firms and certifications approved by the Veterans Administration. The VA has a search engine to help you find if your target certification is on the list to be reimbursed. You can also use our GI Bill search wizard to help you find a qualified program.

Use Your Benefits Before They Expire

You are allowed to use your benefits for 15 years after your release from active duty. If you don’t need to use them right now, don’t. But it doesn’t hurt to use them at some point in the future to better your career situation and skill set.

Bill Provides College Credit for Military Service at Oklahoma State Schools

The state of Oklahoma recently passed a law which will allow state colleges to more easily provide academic credit to military veterans who have received an Honorable Discharge within the last three years. Oklahoma state officials passed Senate Bill 1863, The Post-Military Service Occupation, Education and Credentialing Act, sponsored by Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, and Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton.

Slated to go into affect on November 1, 2012, this bill gives colleges the ability to provide academic credit for military service for those who separated within the last three years. The credit is good for applicable education, training, and experience received through military duty, as long a it pertains to the veteran’s area of study.

The skills earned by military veterans can also be applied by state authorities and governing boards toward professional licenses and certifications when the veteran’s skills are applicable toward the license or certificate. This should expedite the process toward professional licensing and certification for many Oklahoma veterans.

This law also provides assistance to spouses of active duty servicemembers by requiring agencies, boards, and commissions to develop procedures to decrease the time it takes for military spouse applicants to receive professional licenses and certifications.

This bill will help both returning veterans, and spouses of active duty military members find work. Oklahoma’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon, of Edmond, praised the bill as a way to help support veterans returning from active duty overseas.

“Our military service men and women deserve our support in honor of their service to our nation,” Aragon said. “This program will allow veterans to transform their unique military skills and training into academic credit and real-world certification.”

Thoughts on this new bill: Many colleges and universities offer some academic credits for military service, but many of them limit it to an elective credit for PT (physical training), or another small elective credit. This new bill in Oklahoma, on the other hand, gives academic credit which will help veterans get closer to their degree of choice, provided their military experience is in their academic field.

This is a great opportunity for veterans to gain academic credits and reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain an Associate’s Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, or professional certification. The new GI Bill is a great benefit, and even though it covers virtually all in-state educational expenses, it doesn’t do anything to reduce the amount of time it takes to get the required degree and enter the job force.

Note: The University of Oklahoma (OU) already provides a variety of veterans academic credit for their military service, including vets who served decades ago. You can find a list of the credits they offer for military personnel and veterans.

Private Military Scholarships

College is expensive. Despite excellent benefits provided by GI Bill 2.0, the cost of attending a top-tier university can shoulder a veteran with considerable debt. But that doesn’t mean you should shelve your plans of attending a university. The citizenry of the United States, private John and Jane Q. Publics’, have come to the rescue. It’s a tradition that dates back to the late 19thcentury – the American public coming to together in order to provide academic support for active-duty and military veterans. Below you’ll find several scholarships that cater specifically to Active-Duty military members and veterans.

Where You Can Find Private Military Scholarships

AMVETS ScholarshipAMVETS. Formed by World War II veterans, American Veterans (AMVETS) – who now hold a congressional charter offer a relatively tasty scholarship. Aimed at veterans who have exhausted government aid and find themselves in financial hardship, the AMVETS scholarships range up to $1,000 per year. Other eligible scholarship applicants include veterans and active duty military members, their children or grandchildren, and the child or grandchild of a deceased veteran. It must be used for undergraduate, graduate, or certificate studies and is awarded for a maximum of fours years.

Pat Tillman Foundation ScholarshipPat Tillman Foundation. Continuing on, the Pat Tillman Foundation offers one of the more dynamic scholarships around. The namesake of NFL player-turned Army Ranger – Patrick Daniel Tillman, the foundation was established following his death in Afghanistan due to friendly fire in 2004. As per their website, the Tillman Military Scholars program “supports our nation’s active and veteran service member and their spouses by removing financial barriers to completing a degree program of choice. Investing nearly $2.2 million in scholastic support, the foundation also covers the cost of study-related fees, including books, housing and even child-care. Beyond question, the Tillman Foundation is an excellent resource for veterans in need. Learn more about eligibility and criteria.

1st Marine Division Association Scholarship1st Marine Division Association. For United States Marines rated by the Veterans Administration as 100% disabled, the 1st Marine Division Association offers scholarships towards completion of a bachelor’s degree. The university of choice must be an accredited four-year college and the maximum award falls in at $1,500. Learn more about the scholarship requirements.

Navy Marine Corps Relief Society ScholarshipNavy and Marine Corps Relief Society. Yet another Marine Corps/Navy-related assistance program can be found at Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society. Providing interest-free loans and grants, the society not only provides for educational support, but also helps with “emergency needs such as: emergency transport; funeral expenses; medical/dental bills; food/rent; disaster relief; child care; vehicle repair; [and] unforeseen family emergencies.”

Under the same umbrella organization, the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy Centennial Scholarship Program offers significant monetary benefits to “combat wounded or injured veterans who have chosen to serve their country again by entering the teaching profession.” Basic requirements include combat service in either the Navy/Marine Corps during Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation New Dawn. A sizable $3,000 per academic year is awarded to select full-time students attending an accredited university. Learn more about the NMCRS education programs, including the United States Navy Centennial Scholarship Program.

Dr. Aurelio M. Caccomo Family Foundation Memorial Scholarship. Finally, we have the Dr. Aurelio M. Caccomo Family Foundation Memorial Scholarship. Awarding “two, $3,000 scholarships per year to veterans who want to improve their job skills by returning to school,” the Caccomo Family Foundation should be of particular interest to veterans who have run through their traditional GI Bill benefits. All applicants must demonstrate financial need and posses a high school diploma or GED. It would behoove would-be applicants to establish expiration of “government sources of educational funding,” thus illustrating the scholarship’s caveat of “financial need.” Learn more about the Dr. Aurelio M. Caccomo scholarship.

Take Advantage of Military Scholarships

Notwithstanding government allotted funds, veterans may find themselves in need of educational support due to our sagging economy. Sadly, the rising costs of college may dissuade active-duty service members and veterans from attending college – but it shouldn’t. Even if the rebooted GI Bill no longer applies to the aforementioned individuals, private citizens and organizations are there to help. Take full advantage of that assistance – you certainly earned it!

Post 9-11 GI Bill – Your Ticket to a College Education

Post-9/11 GI Bill

Are you eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill?

It’s been called the most significant piece of legislation ever passed by Congress. The “Greatest Generation” – champions of the free world, found release from combat, harnessing post-war anxiety into academic success. And when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act on June 22, 1944, he guaranteed a myriad of benefits ranging from educational support, job training, loan assistance for homes, farms or businesses and unemployment pay, to veterans of the Second World War. This treatise of veterans’ assistance came to be known as the GI Bill of Rights.

Reconstructed on several occasions in order to meet the needs and challenges of an ever-changing world, the GI Bill can seem like an uncharted battlefield to many service members returning home from far-flung climes.  The Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (also known as GI Bill 2.0) is no different – altruistic, yet extremely convoluted. In order to fully digest GI Bill 2.0, it’s imperative to compare it with its predecessor: the Montgomery GI Bill.

Comparing Post-9/11 GI Bill to the MGIB

In years past, service members enlisting in the military post-1985 were required to pay $1,200 towards their educational benefits. As of August 1, 2011 the Post 9/11 GI Bill came into being – allowing any service member serving 90 days of Active Duty since September 11, 2001, access to assistance – sans payment. Only a few requirements exist for participating veterans: serving a total of 36 months of Active Duty or honorable discharge due to a service related disability.

In a move to tackle current university fees, GI Bill 2.0 no longer pays a flat rate directly to veterans – rather, the VA pays 100% of in-state public school tuition directly to the college. Private university tuition caps in at $17,500 – something unheard of under the Montgomery GI Bill. Also, eligible students can pull stipends for both books and living expenses.  These so-called “living allowances,” can range from $667 to $2,751 per month.

Contingent upon agreement of re-enlistment, currently serving troops with six years of Active Duty have the ability to transfer their educational benefits. They must quality for academic assistance themselves and have a spouse or dependent enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS). Whereas the Montgomery GI Bill’s benefit period spanned ten years, GI Bill 2.0 pushes it to fifteen – another great update to aging system.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill also expanded which programs veterans are eligible to use. Some educational programs include traditional college courses, including 2 and 4 year degrees, Master’s programs, vocational/technical training, flight training, national testing, certifications, licensing, and more.

One of the more innovative attributes of GI Bill 2.0 is the “Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program.” Totally ignored in previous education bills, the “Yellow Ribbon Program,” seeks to support veterans at the graduate school level. Private and public universities, who choose to participate in the syllabus, must offer scholarships of tuition forgiveness to veterans. Thereupon entering into an agreement with the Veterans Administration, the college will be compensated, dollar-for-dollar, with what they provided – up to the full cost of tuition.

Here is a brief recap of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits compared to the MGIB:

  • Buy-in Requirement: Post-9/11: None; MGIB: $1,200
  • Who receives payment: Post-9/11: Educational institution receives tuition; MGIB: Veteran receives payment
  • Book stipend and living expenses: Post-9/11: Yes; MGIB: None
  • Expanded educational benefits: Post-9/11: Yes; MGIB: No
  • Are benefits transferable? Post-9/11: Yes, under limited circumstances; MGIB: No
  • Time limit: Post-9/11: 15 years; MGIB: 10 years
  • Yellow Ribbon Program: Post-9/11: Yes; MGIB: No

If you are currently eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill, but served at least 90 days of Active Duty after September 11, 2001, you may be able to transfer your benefits from the MGIB program to the GI Bill 2.0. In some cases, you may be able to add extra time to your GI Bill benefits if you have already used your MGIB benefits, and in limited cases, you can get a MGIB refund if you have exhausted your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 has certainly come a long way since its $500 allotments per school year to qualified veterans. Utilizing a broad spectrum of benefits, the Post-9/11 GI Bill tackles contemporary issues facing student veterans. It’s definitely worth exploring if you are eligible. Standby for further information on military education benefits, including private military scholarships, and more. And if you are ready to explore your benefits further, then check out these GI Bill education programs for more information about which degree program might be the best for your career goals.

VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 – GI Bill for Unemployed Veterans Age 35-60

If you are an unemployed military veteran, you may be eligible for a new GI Bill / career training program: the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 was created to help veterans gain marketable skills to more easily find a job. These new GI Bill benefits include education and training for unemployed veterans who are aged 35-60. The Veteran Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act of 2011 (HR 2433) is part of the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program and was signed into law just before the end of 2011.

Here are a sampling of benefits which will help veterans (we will cover these in more depth below):

  • Up to 1-year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits to qualify for jobs in high-demand sectors
  • Up to 1-year of additional VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefits for disabled veterans.
  • Quicker access to veterans preference rating for civil service jobs.
  • Improvements to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP)
  • Military skills translation – the Department of Labor is tasked to come up with better ways to translate military skills into the civilian sector.

If these additional benefits seem like something that will benefit you, then please continue reading and we will cover who is eligible for these benefits, more details about the benefits, availability dates, and how you can register to begin receiving them.

If you aren’t eligible to receive these benefits, then please forward this article to a veteran you know who may need assistance qualifying for additional education and training to help find a job.

Expanded GI Bill Benefits for Qualified Veterans

The VOW to Hire Heroes Act will offer qualified and eligible veterans up to 12 months of full-time Montgomery GI Bill benefits at the Active Duty rate. See current MGIB rates for more information.

Here are some additional benefits in greater detail:

Greater education and training opportunities: The VOW to Hire Heroes Act will provide eligible veterans with up to a year of additional MGIB benefits at the active duty rate, in order to help them earn training and certifications in high-demand jobs. In order to receive benefits, eligible veterans must attend a VA Approved education or training program at a community college or technical school, provided the program is working toward an Associate’s Degree, a non-college degree, or a qualified certification in a high demand occupation. Some examples include technology certifications, trucking, and various Associate’s Degrees.

This program also provides disabled veterans up to 1-year of additional VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefits, provided they have exhausted their unemployment benefits.

Veterans can acquire “veterans preference status” more quickly. There is currently a delay in how quickly veterans can acquire veterans preference status for civil service employment. The new VOW to Hire Heroes Act will help make this transition more seamless by enabling veterans to acquire veterans preference status before separating from the military, which can help facilitate hiring into a federal job. the goal is to reduce the time it takes to hire qualified military veterans — many jobs currently take months to fill, causing many veterans to  file for unemployment benefits while their application and veterans preference is pending.

Transition Assistance Program (TAP) improvements: The TAP program is required by all branches of the service and is designed to help military members make the transition from the military environment to the civilian world. The goal is to help veterans prepare for life away from the military, including creating a resume, interviewing, and getting hired into a civilian position. TAP will be getting as facelift as part of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, with improvements in career counseling, job searching processes, and more.

Military skills translation. Translating your skills to the civilian marketplace can be difficult. After all, how many civilian jobs are there for bomb loader or artillery specialists? While there aren’t necessarily direct civilian jobs with those job titles, many of the skills you have learned while in these positions are translatable, and the Department of Labor has been tasked to make it easier for military members and veterans to translate their skills into civilian terms, and make it easier to earn licenses and certifications for civilian employment. You can already use the Veterans Job Bank to translate your military skills, but expect more improvements and assistance in the future.

Employment assistance. The Department of Labor will provide employment assistance to each veteran who completes the program.

Veterans Tax Credits: Though this doesn’t directly affect the veterans, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides employers with tax credits of $5,600 for hiring an unemployed veteran, and $9,600 for hiring an unemployed disabled veteran. This may make the difference between you getting a job or an employer deciding not to hire an extra employee.

Who qualifies for the VOW GI Bill?

This program is designed to help unemployed military veterans gain marketable skills through training and education.

To qualify for the VOW GI Bill, a veteran must:

  • Be age 35 or older and younger than 60
  • Be unemployed (according to Department of Labor definitions) with special consideration given to veterans who have been unemployed for 26 weeks or longer.
  • Have an other than dishonorable discharge.
  • Not be eligible for any other VA education benefit program (e.g.: the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Assistance).
  • Not be in receipt of compensation due to unemployability.
  • Not be enrolled in a federal or state job training program

How to Apply for VOW Benefits

This program will be jointly run by the Department of Labor and the VA. The VA will provide funding for the program, but applications must be submitted to the Department of Labor where they will be processed and approved.

Program start and end date: This program will become available to eligible veterans on July 1, 2012 and is set to extend through March 31, 2014.

Limited availability. Like all good things, there are limits to the availability for this program. The law only provides availability for 45,000 participants in fiscal year 2012, and 54,000 participants in fiscal year 2013. It’s too early to say if there will be extensions on that time frame, as it will likely depend on how the economy is doing and whether there will be funding. (Current funding is already approved and paid for).

Instructions for applying: Here are the details on How to Apply to Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) GI Bill.

Where to go for more information.

This is a joint program sponsored by the Department of Labor and the Veterans Affairs office. You can read more about the VOW GI Bill here: VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 | House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and at the VOW to Hire Heroes Act page at the VA.

Tips for Testing out of College Courses

One of my goals when I enlisted in the USAF was to use military tuition assistance benefits and/or the GI Bill to achieve my college degree. I wasn’t sure how or where I would accomplish that goal, or if I would have to wait until I separated from the military so I could use the GI Bill.

Thankfully, I was able to use tuition assistance and earn my Bachelor’s Degree while on active duty. Of course, this took a lot of hard work and the cooperation of my supervisors, who allowed me to work the night shift for two years while I took night classes and correspondence courses. One of the big reasons I was able to complete my degree so quickly is because I was able to test out of about 10 college level classes by taking free college level examinations to receive credits that would count toward my college degree. In each instance the tests were free to take, saved me months of class work, and saved me money on books and unused tuition assistance and GI Bill benefits.

I want to share with you the types of tests available to military members, and how to pass the tests and gain college credits. And the good news is almost anyone can do it – all you need to do is take some time to study the practice guides and learn a few test taking skills.

Earning College Credits by Examination While in the Military

Military members have two basic types of college level exams available to them for free, and a third option which used to be free, but can still save you time and money:

  • CLEP Tests
  • DANTES Exams (DSST)
  • Excelsior Exams*

We’ll cover each of these and give a few tips to help you pass these exams and earn free college credits. *as of Oct 1, 2011, Excelsior exams are no longer free for military members.

CLEP Tests – College Level Examination Program

A CLEP test, or College Level Examination Program, is a standard college level exam program that is accepted by many colleges and universities around the US. There are  approximately 35 different exams you can take which, when passed, give you corresponding college level credits. Depending on the university, they may or may not apply to your GPA, since the tests are usually given on a pass/fail basis. Each of the 35 test can be taken via a computer based test, and there are 14 available in paper format.

You should expect to wait approximately 4-6 weeks to get your test results, and you can also opt to have the test results sent to your school, which makes it easier to have the college credits applied to your degree program (I recommend this if you are currently enrolled in a degree program as it will save you time and money). In most cases you will need to send away for an official transcript before you are able to officially apply these credits to your degree program, so it’s usually best to wait until you are done taking CLEP tests so you don’t have to pay for multiple transcripts.

Preparing for CLEP tests: There are specific study guides for each CLEP Test, and they are usually available at your base library. There may be a waiting list for some of the more popular titles, especially when it is close to graduation time as many people try to squeeze in extra credits to avoid waiting another semester to graduate. The study guides are usually multiple choice and are designed to test you on the topic, not teach you much new information. Because of this, I recommend studying the topic on your own to learn the knowledge before using the study guides. Note: Be sure you are ready to take the exam because you have to wait 180 days to retake it if you fail.

Here is more information for CLEP Preparation Resources for Military Service Members.

DANTES – Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support

DANTES LogoDANTES, or Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, is a large educational program which supports the off-duty education of Department of Defense members. DANTES offers a variety of educational programs as well as a testing program which can help DoD members earn college credit for the education or experience they have. These tests, which are now known as DSST tests (formerly DANTES Subject Standardized Tests), are offered free to military members, DoD personnel, and some others. Learn more about eligibility.

DANTES does more than just offer the DSST exams, as they are also responsible for offering a wide variety of other tests and entrance exams available through your base education office, including administering the CLEP tests, Excelsior tests, and entrance exams such as the ACT, SAT, GMAT, GRE, and more. DANTES also runs the popular Troops to Teachers Program, which helps veterans begin a second career as a public school teacher, often by offering free or reduced education programs and/or grants.

Excelsior College Examinations

Excelsior tests are similar to the CLEP tests and DSST exams. Unfortunately, I just found out these tests are no longer paid for by DANTES: Effective October 1, 2011, DANTES will no longer fund ECEs. Even though these exams are no longer funded by DANTES, service members can still take these exams on their own dime, and they are still an option worth consideration. Visit www.excelsior.edu for more information about available courses and test centers.

Tips for Passing CLEP Tests and DSST Exams

I took and passed 10 CLEP, DSST and Excelsior exams on the first try. Want to know how I did it? There is no big secret here – I studied for the exams before taking them. But how I studied is more important than just saying I studied. Instead of grabbing the “Official CLEP Study Guide” or similar multiple choice study guide, I first visited the website and copied the outline for the exam (here is an example of the outline for the American Government Exam). The outlines give you a break down of not only the contents of the exam by topic, but the percentage those topics take on the exam. This helps you best know which areas to focus on when studying how to allocate your study time. From this outline, I researched each topic and created my own set of notes (just create an outline and spend a couple hours looking up each topic on Google – it works!). These customized study guides gave me enough knowledge to understand the topic and pass the test (remember, multiple choice study guides don’t teach you the subject matter, they only give you practice questions — learn the info first!). This process worked – I didn’t score the top mark on each exam, but I passed each test I took on the first try.

Which College Placement Exams are Best?

It’s best to do a little research before you get gung-ho and start taking every test in sight. The reason is that not all of these tests are accepted by each university or degree plan. In most cases, you will probably find the CLEP tests are more widely accepted than the other tests, but it varies by school. My recommendation is to first meet with your college counselor and come up with a degree plan and list of tests which will help you reach your educational goals.

The next tip is to make sure you are absolutely ready before taking the exam. You can retake CLEP tests without charge (but you have to wait), but recent changes in DSST exam procedures don’t cover the costs of retaking the exam if you fail, though you can still retake it if you are willing to pay for it yourself. Finally, don’t write off the Excelsior exams, even though they are no longer free for military members. If your degree program accepts the exams and you can work it into your schedule, then these exams may still save you a lot of time and money.

Testing out of College Courses Helped Me Achieve My Goals

My goal was to complete my degree as quickly as possible, so I met with my guidance counselor to come up with a plan that would help me achieve my Bachelor’s degree in less than two years. I had a head start from a year of college I took before I enlisted in the military, and I was able to apply quite a few credits from my military training, including credits for technical training and military leadership courses (the Community College of the Air Force and Professional Military Education (PME) played a big role in the credits I received for military training).

After applying these credits, I was able to take 10 classes via CLEP and DANTES exams, which shaved off over a full year of school and left me with less than two years worth of classes to achieve my Bachelor’s Degree. I took the remaining college classes via night classes that were offered on our installation, and via online courses while I was deployed to the Middle East. It was a challenge working the courses into my full-time military schedule, particularly while deployed, but I was motivated to achieve my degree as quickly as I could. Here is more about my experiences of taking classes while on active duty.

Do you have any advice for taking examination tests or testing out of classes?