A college education is a common denominator for many young people. In fact, more than 20 million students attended colleges and universities in the United States in the fall of 2017, constituting an increase of about 5.1 million since 2000. There is a stronger reliance on higher education than ever, so for many people exiting high school or the military, a college degree is an important next step.
But without adequate planning, higher education is often a major financial stretch for families. To ease the burden on our service people, our country offers a variety of helpful education benefits for military veterans.
Financial Aid for Veterans
If you’ve served in the American Armed Forces, you rightfully have access to exclusive forms of financial aid. One relatively recent development is the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2014. Under the Act, public colleges or universities cannot charge veterans living in the state higher tuition and fees than it charges in-state residents, even if the veteran has not yet officially established residence in that state. The provision is applicable to:
- Veterans discharged or released from active service less than three years before their date of enrollment in the applicable course (active service must be longer than 90 days)
- Veterans’ family members who are eligible for financial assistance for their education
To be protected by the Act, a veteran only needs to demonstrate an intent to establish residency in a state (beyond merely being present in that state). This legislation can mean a substantial savings opportunity for former military personnel.
Veterans can also take advantage of funding through the GI Bill, which offers a host of education benefits. On its website, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides prospective veteran students with resources including:
- An online application for VA education benefits
- CareerScope, a tool to determine the best career path for transition to civilian life
- Information about payment rates
- A school locator, and much more
There are also federal student aid options that serve civilians and military personnel alike. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the gateway for all governmental education funding. Most aid is administered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the sooner you get your FAFSA submitted, the better your odds are of receiving aid. There are a variety of loans and grants available depending on each individual student.
There are also several trust options to help plan far in advance for college. For those who received a personal injury settlement, for example, I often recommend savings options like a 529 plan, which offers exempt distributions for qualifying higher education expenses.
Each student is different and will thus have different options available. By taking advantage of all possible aid, students and their families can minimize or eliminate any out-of-pocket expenses for an all-important college education.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).