Using G.I. Bill Benefits to Pay for Graduate School

A former first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, Stephen Graves is paying for his dual M.D./MBA program at Northwestern University with GI Benefits.

But the 32-year-old veteran, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, found the benefits don’t stretch as far in medical school. The Feinberg School of Medicine student co-authored a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September that shows tuition aid given to veterans in medical school is lower than tuition aid for veterans enrolled in other graduate programs.

“Essentially the GI Bill covers all the tuition or up to a maximum amount per year, somewhere around $21,000 as a cap, so it doesn’t cover the majority of out-of-state or private tuition,” Graves says.

Congress sought to correct this with the post-9/11 GI Bill and the creation of the Yellow Ribbon program to provide additional funds for education beyond the GI Bill benefit. Under this program, colleges and universities may fund tuition expenses that exceed the annual maximum cap at private institutions or resident tuition and fees at public institutions.

Under the program, an institution can contribute up to 50 percent of those remaining expenses, and the Department of Veterans Affairs will match the amount. For example, if an institution offered an $8,000 scholarship to a veteran, the Yellow Ribbon program would match that sum.

But Graves noticed that participation in the Yellow Ribbon program was low at medical schools compared with business and law school programs throughout the country.

According to the study published in JAMA, “VA scholarship support for MD programs was less than for other professional programs at the same universities. This discrepancy may be due to MD programs benchmarking their support levels only to other MD programs or because veterans more frequently enter MBA and JD programs, prompting higher Yellow Ribbon participation.”

[Read: Military Service Gives Students an Edge Paying for Grad School.]

On the flip side, the study showed the vast majority — at least 82 percent — of accredited law and business schools participated in the Yellow Ribbon program during the 2015-2016 school year, compared with 56 percent of medical schools. And in most instances, among J.D. and MBA students, the aid to veterans covered almost all of their tuition.

For prospective graduate students looking to maximize their veteran benefits using both GI Bill funds and Yellow Ribbon scholarships, here are few things to consider when choosing a program.

Benefits vary based on when a veteran was discharged. Since the GI Bill’s creation in 1944 during World War II, it has been updated several times to help veterans pay for college and training. In 2017, Congress passed the Forever GI Bill, which eliminated the 15-year limit on educational benefits for new enlistees. As the bill’s nickname implies, veterans will no longer have a time limit for completing their education. But the benefit is only for those who were discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013.

“The very nice thing is that the GI Bill is constantly renewing and reinventing itself to take much better care of our service members,” says KC Haight, director of military and veteran recruitment at Indiana Wesleyan University.

[Read: Consider MBA Scholarships That Reward Military Service.]

Yellow Ribbons are used after GI Bill funds are exhausted. Those who served up to 36 months in the military are eligible for the 100 percent benefit level. According to the VA’s website, veterans should provide their certificate of eligibility to their school. But keep in mind that it’s up to the school to determine how many recipients are eligible for a Yellow Ribbon scholarship each academic year. According to the VA site, “Schools have the flexibility to designate the number of students and contributions based on student status (undergraduate, graduate, doctoral) and college.”

Michael S. Danko, ROTC and veterans affairs coordinator at Carnegie Mellon University, says, “The VA will use the GI Bill funds first. Once those are exhausted, the Yellow Ribbon will be used. Student eligibility for the percentage of GI Bill funds is determined by the VA based on the student’s amount of time they served in the military.”

[See: Best Colleges for Veterans.]

Graves recommends prospective students go to the VA’s Yellow Ribbon scholarship page and look up a school’s participation rate. “That can give you a good general idea how much various programs have, and when you do talk to the financial aid officer at a school, you can ask them specifically: ‘How many Yellow Ribbon scholarships do you offer? What’s the amount?'” he says.

Tuition discounts are usually available at private and public institutions. A few states, such as Utah, Wisconsin and Texas, offer tuition waivers for at least several credit hours to resident veterans; typically these tuition waivers are for veterans attending a state-sponsored college or university.

But there are also discounts available at the private institutional level. At IWU, for instance, veterans can receive a 25 percent tuition reduction on most of the school’s graduate programs.

Haight says veterans interested in pursuing a graduate degree should check the benefits, such as tuition reductions and the maximum contribution level awarded through the Yellow Ribbon program, available at certain schools. “That would stretch their GI Bill dollars and provide them more opportunities to provide benefits to spouses or children in the future and still realize their educational goals,” Haight says.

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Graduate School center.

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Using G.I. Bill Benefits to Pay for Graduate School originally appeared on usnews.com