Anticipating Impact of New GI Bill

Report suggests veterans, who have flocked to community colleges, part-time, might seek more expensive four-year universities and enroll full-time because of new benefits.
August 28, 2009

Beneficiaries of the new Post 9/11 GI Bill may be more likely to attend four-year universities and enroll in college full time than were their recent veteran counterparts, who typically enrolled at community colleges and attended part time, according to a new report from the American Council on Education.

“Veterans and service members who are eligible for the new GI Bill will receive more generous benefits that will broaden the choices they have when pursuing higher education,” Alexandra Walton Radford, the report’s author and a research associate at MPR Associates, an educational consulting firm, said in a statement. “While these students have previously been concentrated at public two-year colleges, these new benefits may encourage them to seek entry into more expensive colleges, particularly if those institutions demonstrate responsiveness to their needs.”

The report argues that cost might not have been the sole determinant of where veterans went to college before the new GI Bill. It notes that other factors such as “whether an institution offers appropriate credit for military training and experience” might have also influenced their decision.

In 2007-8, veterans and active-service military members made up only 4 percent of undergraduates enrolled in American institutions of higher education. Of that group, 43 percent attended community colleges, 21 percent attended public four-year colleges, 13 percent attended private four-year colleges and 12 percent attended for-profit institutions. The rest attended more than one type.

Jim Selbe, assistant vice president of lifelong learning at ACE, said he was unsure why military men and women have preferred attending community colleges in recent years. Still, he had impressions drawn from his own time acclimating to the home front after years of service in the Marines.

“From my own experience as a military student, it wasn’t just the cost and convenience that they found appealing,” he said. “It’s that, at community colleges, they were much more likely to encounter other adult learners and get more attention.... This is a moment of opportunity for the four-year colleges to learn from the community colleges what is so compelling about them to military undergraduates.”

In 2007-8, only about 23 percent of veterans and active-service military members who were attending college of any sort attended full time for a full academic year. Those who received “veterans' education benefits,” however, were 15 percentage points more likely to do so than those who did not.

Given the expansion of benefits now available through the new GI Bill, Jacqueline E. King, assistant vice president of ACE’s center for policy analysis, said she believes it is “reasonable to assume” that veterans will “make use of these benefits in a way they have not in the past.” As a result, she and others argue that this full-time/part-time data from the 2007-08 cohort of veterans make the case that, as many more veterans will benefit from the new GI Bill, more of them will seek to attend college full time.

Still, the fact that benefits are being offered does not always translate into their being used by veterans. In 2007-8, just 47 percent of those eligible to receive veterans education benefits at four-year public colleges did so. At all other institutions, the percentage of those veterans making use of benefits was significantly lower. Thirty-seven percent of veterans at four-year private colleges received benefits, as did 34 percent of veterans at community colleges and 32 percent of veterans at for-profit institutions.

“The benefits of the new GI Bill must be well publicized by both colleges and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; this is to the advantage of both military personnel seeking higher education and the institutions in which they hope to enroll,” Radford writes in the report, citing these participation rates from 2007-8. “Although some of these students may have been ineligible for benefits, some likely would have qualified and found an easier and quicker path through higher education by using them.”


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