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When it Comes to Higher Education, Military-Affiliated Students Deserve Better

By Chad Storlie:

The US military is one of the most respected institutions in the our country. As a reward for military service, veterans have respectable in-service and post-service benefits. One of the key areas that military veterans benefit from the most is through education benefits with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, military service tuition assistance (TA), and tuition discounts by higher education institutions.

The bottom line, however, is that while military veterans receive great education benefits, they have not fully profited from the best of America’s higher education institutions.

US military-affiliated students, a designation that includes veterans and active duty military personnel, comprise approximately 5% of the higher education student population. It is important to note that success in higher education for all students is defined by the results that occur following graduation from a higher education institution with either a two-year or four-year degree; educational success in college is not defined by the school’s accreditation, if it is included in a “Best of” list, or if it gives college credit for prior military training.

More specifically, higher education success is represented by six key characteristics that relate to the likelihood of financial and career success following graduation:

(1) The percentage of students who graduate from the school;

(2) The percentage of students who pay back their educational debt;

(3) The percentage of students who are employed following graduation;

(4) The level of student debt upon graduation;

(5) The level of tuition paid; and

(6) The level of income following graduation.

The bad news is that in the vast majority of cases, military-affiliated students are more likely to attend higher education institutions with lower post-graduation results. In short, military personnel and military veterans who defend the nation receive a lower quality of higher education.

Military-affiliated students often find themselves in poor-performing educational institutions for a variety of reasons. First, many military education counselors define success as degree completion as such. Most education counselors do not define the higher education degree by the comparative worth of the degree in the civilian business world. Therefore, a military-affiliated student who is accepted and completes a degree at any educational institution is a success for a military education counselor, even if that degree leads to more debt, more expenses, and less career success than other lower-priced institutions with better educational outcomes.


Second, as the Government Accountability Office (GAO), RAND, and the US Department of Education have all noted, US military-affiliated personnel are often the targets of unscrupulous educational institutions, both for-profit and non-profit alike, due to the excellent educational benefits they receive.

Third, many military-affiliated students may short-change their ability to do well in higher education and not believe they can succeed in a demanding academic environment.

Finally, military veterans simply don’t receive the right comprehensive educational guidance to direct them to those institutions that produce the best graduation outcomes.

Exhibit 1 – Average Performance of US Educational Institutions by Key Educational Outcome Criteria

Exhibit 2 – Performance Tiers of US Higher Educational Institutions (Two-Year and Four-Year) and the Percentage of Military-Affiliated Students vs. the US Student Population

The second chart shows that military veterans are UNDER-represented in the higher education institutions with the BETTER career outcomes (Tier 1) and OVER-represented in the higher education institutions with LOWER career outcomes (Tier 5 to Tier 7).

Military-affiliated students in higher education or seeking to enter higher education should become their own aggressive advocates of finding the best career outcomes for the lowest tuition dollar. They should research, understand, and seek out the best educational outcomes that a degree will give them. Veterans should aim for educational institutions with a large student body, a student retention rate > 80%, a graduation rate > 60%, a student loan repayment rate >80%, additional student loan debt no more than $16,000 for four years, and an in-state tuition with books no more than $40,000. There are literally hundreds of schools that give military-affiliated students high-quality educational outcomes with reasonable tuition and learning options for both on-campus and distance learning delivery.



Exhibit 3 – A Selection of Top Educational Institutions for Military-Affiliated Students

  1. United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY – Public, Four-Year
  2. Brigham Young University at Provo, UT – Private, Four-Year
  3. Bernard M. Baruch College at New York, NY – Public, Four-Year
  4. California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, CA – Public, Four-Year
  5. University of Florida at Gainesville, FL – Public, Four-Year
  6. University of California at Berkeley, CA – Public, Four-Year
  7. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC – Public, Four-Year
  8. SUNY at Binghamton at Binghamton, NY – Public, Four-Year
  9. James Madison University at Harrisonburg, VA – Public, Four-Year
  10. University of California at Davis, CA – Public, Four-Year

** All of these schools have distance education and on-campus learning options **

Military-affiliated students are great students. Quality higher education makes military personnel and veterans better at their military functions, better citizens, and better at translating and applying their military skills into their post-military careers. Military-affiliated students must be astute and suspicious educational evaluators to ensure that their higher education institution delivers value to their careers and financial future. Military education counselors, parents, and friends must seek to inform, educate, and persuade veterans to ignore the marketing pizazz of lower-quality schools and seek out the best education value and return for their military education benefits.

Chad Storlie is an OpsLens Contributor and retired Lieutenant Colonel with 20-plus years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. Chad is author of two books: “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader” and “Battlefield to Business Success.” Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @Combattocorp.

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