VA Improves its GI Bill College Comparison Tool

Get the Most Bang for Your GI-Bill Buck

VA Web Site Helps Student Veterans Get Degrees. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has upgraded its online GI Bill Comparison Tool, making it easier for veterans, servicemembers and dependents to estimate their GI Bill education benefits and compare VA-approved colleges and educational programs nationwide.

According to a VA statement, it’s new comparison tool offers “a more robust GI Bill benefits calculator” along with “additional information pertinent to the veteran population,” like schools that have established student-veteran support groups and the more than 250 schools that have committed to implementing President Obama’s “8 Keys to Success” in helping veterans succeed on campus.

To help beneficiaries get the most bang for their GI-bill buck, the tool now rates and compares affordability of colleges and training programs based on the beneficiaries’ estimated benefits.

The tool’s GI Bill calculator provides a personalized estimate of the user’s Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition and fee, housing allowance, and book stipend benefits. The tool then uses those estimates to pre-populates tuition and fee estimates from the U.S. Department of Education’s excellent Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which veterans can use for further research.

In addition, the tool’s upgraded “veteran indicator” section contains the latest information on schools’ student veterans groups, as well as the schools’ participation in the VetSuccess on Campus and Yellow Ribbon programs.

“We are excited to see how Veterans respond to the wealth of information now available on the updated GI Bill Comparison Tool” said VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A.

Hickey in a press release “We’re grateful for the chance to work with our partners at the departments of Defense and Education (ED) to ensure beneficiaries are informed education consumers.”

Among the nearly 350,000 people who have used the GI Bill comparison tool since March, the five most-searched schools are American Public University in West Virginia, Harvard University, the University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State and the University of Washington.

In January 2014, the VA launched a related Web site where student veterans can report colleges that try to take advantage of them and their GI Bill educational benefits.​

Recognizing that these veterans have money and want to spend it to further their education, a growing number of schools have been using high-pressure recruitment tactics, like multiple unsolicited phone calls or emails.

In addition, these schools often make false claims about their degree programs and accreditation, and try to talk student veterans into taking out costly private loans to “supplement” their GI-Bill benefits.

Despite Challenges, Veterans Prove Success of GI-Bill

According to a March report from the Student Veterans of America (SVA), over 50% of veterans who have used their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits have received postsecondary degrees or certificates, a success rate similar to traditional, non-veteran students.

“The majority of student veterans accessing their GI Bill benefits are completing degrees and showing unparalleled determination to do so, despite many unique barriers,” said Wayne Robinson, SVA president and CEO in a press release. “A single deployment can interrupt a student veteran's education for at least 9 to 13 months, but they're returning to the classroom and completing.”

The SVA’s report also showed that while student veterans many take longer than traditional students to graduate, most of them complete their initial studies and often earn additional higher level degrees as well.

“Their delayed time-to-completion is due in large part to the unique challenges facing student veterans who are atypical of traditional college students, including age differences, and sometimes pausing their studies to serve in the military-including going overseas,” noted the SVA.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans with college bachelor’s degrees earn an average of nearly $1 million more over their lifetimes that high school graduates.