Paying for College Still a Major Challenge for Military Students, Vets

According to a new survey, schools see financial aid as a top issue for current and former military.

Financial issues are challenging for some military and veteran students, their schools report.

Financial issues are challenging for some military and veteran students, their schools report.

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Some colleges and universities have significantly ramped up programs for military students and veterans, a new survey has found, but many still see financial aid as a pressing issue for the increasingly college-bound demographic. 

"From Soldier to Student II: Assessing Campus Programs for Veterans and Service Members," released by the American Council on Education, asked 2,916 colleges and universities about their offerings for military students and veterans in 2012. The findings, submitted by 690 public two- and four-year colleges, private non-profit four-year schools, and private for-profit institutions, were compared to a similar study of the same name conducted in 2009. 

Financial aid ranked as a major challenge facing military and veteran students at a majority of institutions in both years. In 2009, 82 percent of schools said funding issues were a major obstacle for their vets; three years later, 71 percent said it was one of the most common challenges. 

[Get tips for college success after the military.] 

Financial help for military members and veterans is available at many of these schools, according to the study. Approximately 67 percent of the institutions reported offering financial aid and tuition assistance counseling to veterans and military students, and some schools have scholarships for military and veteran students (24 percent and 33 percent, respectively). 

[Find scholarships for service members and their families.] 

But part of the funding challenge lies with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the complexity of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the study notes. While 87 percent of schools report offering VA education benefits counseling, some issues, including receiving timely payments from the VA, are out of a school's control. At colleges without a specific office for veterans, timely VA payments posed as big a challenge as understanding the intricacies of education benefits, the schools reported. 

"The student-related data reporting confusion understanding VA benefit programs suggest that D[epartment] o[f] D[efense] and VA have more work to do in preparing service members for transition from the military and processing their benefits in a timely manner," the study notes. "This is not unexpected in a benefit program as complex as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. But this confusion must be addressed by governmental stakeholders, not just by campuses."

Without outside help, some of the reported issues may be at least tempered at schools that employ counselors specifically for veterans and current military students. "Institutions that have a dedicated office for veterans and military personnel are much more likely to tailor common services, including financial aid/tuition assistance counseling, ... to these students," the study notes. 

[Find out what veteran-specific programs to look for at college.] 

Financial aid was only one component examined in the comprehensive, 70-page report, which also includes statistics about schools' academic, social, and counseling programs for current military and veteran students. Though schools have largely beefed up their outreach and offerings, necessary work remains to be done, the study concludes. 

"Military personnel and veterans are and have been a tremendous asset to higher education, but they have needs that are distinct from other students," the study notes. "As campuses continue to welcome these students, it is important for administrators to not only reassess their programs and services, but to ensure veterans and service members have useful information about such programs to make an informed decision about which institution is the best for them." 

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Corrected on : Corrected 8/2/2012: An earlier version of this article did not specify the total number of survey recipients.