QUANTICO MARINE CORPS BASE, Va. -- An unstable and unpredictable economy coupled with rising tuition costs, can spoil college dreams. In fact, according to collegeboard.org, a non-profit created to increase students' access to higher education, reported the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2013–2014 school year was $30,094 at private colleges, $8,893 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,203 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Those fees do not include room-and-board, books or supplies.
Service members who are no longer in the military or their family members can use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay for tuition costs, but could find themselves short of funds if their tuition exceeds the max amount that the Department of Veteran Affairs will pay annually. The Yellow Ribbon Program is available to help reduce additional expenses, however it is not offered at all institutions. Tuition expenses will be covered if the service member attends an in state school or school that offers in-state tuition to veterans.
The YRP allows an approved institution and the VA to "partially or fully fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the established limits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill," according the VA.
"You can only the use Yellow Ribbon Program if the service member is out of the military; it's not available for active duty members," said Lori Fox, an education and career specialist at the Voluntary Education Center. "However, some schools offer the program and some don't, so you have to be careful with it."
For example, Fox explained, if a service member and or family members attends a private school, the VA will only pay up to $19,138.31 per year for tuition. But, if the cost to attend the school is $30,000 per year, the school can give the student a certain dollar amount to help cover tuition. She clarified the dollar amount awarded to the student can vary from institution to institution and fluctuate each year. The school can also control how many students can use the YRP.
"It's a program the school can get rid of at anytime," said Fox. "If you see that a school has had the program for awhile, you might feel safer, but there is no guarantee the school will keep the program every year."
Currently Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits are available for service members who served on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001. Benefits are based on length of service.
For information on a list of programs, institutions of higher learning approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs the YRP and Post-9/11 GI Bill, visit www.gibill.gov.