In the first six years after the rollout of the multibillion-dollar Post-9/11 GI Bill, more than half of the veterans using the education benefit completed their degrees. Through September 2015, about 453,000 degrees were earned.
Student Veterans of America, a nonprofit coalition of veterans groups on college campuses, released new research to Congress last week tracking how the Post-9/11 GI Bill has been used. SVA leaders said they want to use the findings to eliminate issues for veterans seeking degrees and to justify to Congress the need for continued funding.
In 2014, about 800,000 veterans used the GI Bill, at a cost to taxpayers of about $11 billion. Spending for the benefit in fiscal 2016 is about $12 billion, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some in the veterans community fear lawmakers could shrink GI Bill funding to cut costs.
“The success we’ve seen from this research … leads us to understand, in fact, we want more of this, we want more of this success,” William Hubbard, SVA’s vice president of government affairs, told lawmakers. “What can we do to encourage more veterans to pursue a degree? And to that end, what can we do to make the Post-9/11 GI Bill a permanent GI Bill — not as a wartime benefit — but as a part of service?”
The research was compiled using a sample of student records from the VA and higher education data from the National Student Clearinghouse. SVA will publish a full report next week that was peer-reviewed by researchers at Syracuse University and Purdue University.
The study found that 54% of veterans who used the bill from 2009 to 2015 completed degrees. As of September 2015, 18% were still working on their degrees. Of those, 23% were women, though women are only about 16 to 18% of the armed forces.
About 40% of those who completed degrees were 25 to 29. The highest portion of degrees — 27% — were business-related, and 14% were in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
At the current funding level, SVA estimated veterans would complete 100,000 degrees each year.
Of veterans who worked toward degrees, 28% didn’t complete their education.
“We’d like to know what can be done about that,” Hubbard said. “We’re working with the VA on who those individuals are, is there a reason they dropped out, and is there something that can be done.”
The findings show that for-profit colleges receive a large%age of GI Bill funding. While public schools received 34% of all GI Bill funding and produced 64% of degrees, for-profit schools used 40% of GI Bill funds and produced only 19% of degrees, the study found.
The remaining funding, about 25%, went to private schools, where 16% of degrees were completed.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif, said the ratio of funding to completed degrees at for-profit schools was a “huge problem” and called for more attention to veterans’ experiences there.
“There is a real efficiency problem there,” Takano told SVA leaders. “We need to take a look at why this is happening.”
The Defense Department and some Democrats have voiced concerns that for-profit institutions were preying on servicemembers for GI Bill funds. The Federal Trade Commission began an investigation into for-profit University of Phoenix in 2015, in part because of its military recruitment.
“Those numbers caught our attention,” Hubbard told Takano during a roundtable discussion about the study. “Obviously this is a major concern for us. Whatever it takes to have student veterans be successful, we want that.”
Chris Cate, SVA’s vice president of research, said the group is working on a more detailed study into which academic paths and types of institutions lead to the most degrees. That study is expected to be complete later this year, he said.
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