Should You Use Your GI Bill Benefits for an Online Degree?

You can use your GI Bill benefits at both brick-and-mortar and online institutions, but your benefits will change based upon which you choose.  Here are some things to think about when deciding whether or not an online degree is right for you.  
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online university student

Online education is growing in popularity, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

The percentage of students doing an entire degree program online increased to approximately 10.8% in 2016 from 6.5% in 2012.   A 2018 study conducted by Northeastern University found that 61% of human resources professionals said an online degree was just as good as a degree from a traditional university.  

Increasingly, brick-and-mortar schools are beginning to offer online courses and entire degrees online.  According to Sean Gallagher, executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy, the COVID-19 pandemic served to accelerate this trend.

But, remember that you don’t have to earn a degree exclusively online or in the classroom. You can do both. 

You can use your GI Bill benefits at both brick-and-mortar and online institutions, but your benefits will change based upon which you choose.  Here are some things to think about when deciding whether or not an online degree is right for you.  

Can I Use the GI Bill for my Online Degree? 

First, consider your future career. Many well-paid careers don’t require a degree. The GI Bill can help you pay for vocational training if that’s the route you want to take.    

Think about the coursework format if you’re looking for a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).  If your chosen career field is likely to involve a lot of lab or fieldwork, online training may not provide adequate instruction.

According to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, many students start their education at a community college to knock out their general education classes before transferring to a major university.  General education requirements are courses that almost every degree program requires (like college Algebra).  

If you want to do this, ensure that your college is accredited before attending.  Otherwise, your credits may not transfer.

Check Your School’s Accreditation

Whether the school is online or not, accreditation is the most important indicator of your education’s quality.  

Accreditation is a process that requires schools to demonstrate the quality of their education to an external agency.  There are two types of accreditation – national and regional.  Regional accreditation typically requires a more thorough process than national accreditation, according to a Drexel University publication.  

Credits from regionally accredited schools are more likely to be accepted by other institutes of higher education.  

Search the Department of Education’s database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs to verify your school’s accreditation status.  

Vet for-profit schools offering online degrees carefully. The VA’s Office of the Inspector General published a report in 2018 which estimated up to $2.3 billion in benefits could go to ineligible programs over the next five years.  

Congress passed a bill earlier this year to combat schools aiming to scam veterans out of their educational benefits. 

Since the accreditation process aims to ensure that institutions provide a quality education, students should be wary of schools that don’t go through this process.  

Is an Online Degree Right for Me?

When choosing whether or not to go to school online, think about your learning style.  

Shane Logue, a member of the Penn State World Campus Military Educational Benefits Office, offered a few pointers about how to succeed in an online classroom: 

  • Consider how well you focus in an unstructured learning environment.  All college courses require discipline, but self-paced online courses require you to enforce your own deadlines. 
  •  Consider the material you’ll be studying.   You can take just about any class you can think of online – including physics, calculus and statistics – but these classes can be even more difficult without in-person instruction.  A hybrid campus – one which has an online presence and an actual campus – offers the flexibility to choose different course formats for different classes. 
  • Your situation will ultimately determine the right educational approach for you.  If you live in a rural area without a close university, have limited childcare options or work full-time, online education may be the most convenient.  
  • Check to see if your school has a student veteran center or other military education office to answer any questions about your benefits. 
  • Don’t assume that an online degree is a walk in the park.  Though the delivery system is different, online programs are just as demanding as traditional coursework.  Mentally prepare yourself to work hard.

Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefit Considerations

Your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits will change based on your student status.  According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to qualify for a monthly housing allowance (MHA), you must attend school more than half-time.  What’s considered half-time will change based on the school that you attend, but for most undergraduate degrees, it’s 12 credit hours.  So, you need to earn at least seven credit hours per semester to get an MHA.

If you qualify for an MHA, the amount that you receive will depend on a couple of things.  The VA has a comparison tool that will show you MHA amounts for different schools, including online colleges and universities. The allowance changes each year based on the cost of living in your area. 

According to the VA, if you are attending a brick-and-mortar school, the MHA will be the same as the BAH rate for an E-5 with dependents in the area where the school is geographically located.  

The MHA rate is redetermined annually and changes at the beginning of every school year, which begins on Aug. 1

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About James Gallimore

James Gallimore is a veteran of the United States Air Force who served on active duty for eight years as a 9S100, Scientific Applications Specialist. A large portion of his career was dedicated to sensor research and design and analysis methodology improvement. After separating from the Air Force, he went to work for a contractor working at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) doing more of the same. He met his wife while working in the Washington D.C. area, got married, and left the country for her job. In New Delhi, he served as an economic analyst for the U.S. Department of State. He currently resides in Bucharest, Romania, where he’s a volunteer grant writer for a U.S.-based non-profit and an aspiring freelance writer. He has degrees in Information Technology, Military Technologies and Applied Sciences, International Relations, and Environmental Science.

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