If you're a veteran who's going back to school, or still active duty looking to get your degree, there are a lot of considerations in your choice of schools. You probably have military experience that you can get college credit for. You also have financial considerations, so you may want a school that works with Tuition Assistance or the Yellow Ribbon program.
But how do you know which not-for-profit schools provide the best military-friendly programs for students?
Since 1988, US News & World Report has cranked out a yearly "America's Best Colleges" ranking publication. Within the publication there are a multitude of different lists including National Universities Rankings, National Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings, Regional Universities Rankings, Regional Colleges Rankings, and Best Undergraduate Business Programs to name a few (Yes, there are more.)
These rankings are determined by first categorizing the institutions based on type and mission. Then, institutions are ranked according to 16 different academic areas where each area has its own weight in the total ranking of the institution. (Whew. I know, bear with me)
But this ranking system doesn't have take into account veteran or military programs for students who previously served or are currently serving.
17 Key Veteran Benefits Programs Offered By Colleges
CollegeRecon identifies 17 key veteran benefits programs that are available on campuses to assist veterans and military personnel. They are:
- BAH - The Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) payments you receive for the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill are based on the military's Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates for an E-5 with dependents. The Department of Defense adjusts the BAH every calendar year (or January 1) based on changes to housing costs across the country. BAH rates for online colleges, schools, or distance learning programs is $754.50. BAH is not paid during summer or winter breaks, but Spring Break counts. Dropping courses can negatively affect BAH payments.
- Campus SVA Chapter - SVA chapters are student-veteran groups that have formed on college and university campuses to provide peer-to-peer networks for veterans who are attending those schools. The chapters are designed to be advocates for student veterans, and to help bridge the campus-to-career transition.
- Full-Time Veteran Counselor On Campus - A full-time veteran counselor is on campus to offer support and assistance for any array of student-veteran issues. These counselors will assist veterans in a number of ways, including helping them determine which services they need to succeed, and then directing how to engage them.
- Signed VA Principles Of Excellence - Educational institutions participating in the Principles of Excellence program agree to follow a set of guidelines pertaining to student-veteran issues. Examples of these guidelines include: Providing students with a personalized form covering the total cost of an education program and designating a point-of-contact for academic and financial advising.
- Club/Association For Veterans - These institutions offer student-veteran clubs and associations on their campuses.
- Veteran Upward Bound Program - The Veteran Upward Bound Program is designed to motivate and assist veterans in the development of academic and other requisite skills necessary for acceptance and success in a program of post-secondary education. The program provides assessment and enhancement of basic skills through counseling, mentoring, tutoring, and academic instruction in the core subject areas.
- 8 Keys To Veterans' Success - The "8 Keys to Veterans' Success" are steps that postsecondary institutions can take to assist veterans and service members in transitioning to higher education, completing their college programs, and obtaining career-ready skills. These postsecondary institutions have voluntarily affirmed their support for the 8 Keys.
- Offers ROTC Program -The Reserve Officers' Training Corps is one of the best opportunities for you to get an invaluable experience while you earn a college degree. When enrolled in ROTC you learn and develop leadership skills and prepare for a career as an officer in the U.S. military. You will learn first-hand what it takes to lead others, motivate groups, and how to conduct missions as a military officer.
- ACE Credit For Military Experience - The ACE Military Evaluations Program evaluates formal military training in terms of academic credit, allowing thousands of military personnel to earn credit for college-level learning acquired in the military. Your Joint Service Transcript (JST) may be sent as an official document to colleges and universities, at the student's request, for use in the credential evaluation process.
- Follow ACE Standards For Credit - ACE's Military Guide presents credit recommendations for formal courses and occupations offered by all branches of the military. All recommendations for credit approval are based on ACE reviews conducted by college and university faculty members who are actively teaching in the areas they review.
- Awards Credit For CLEP Exam - The CLEP exams allow Veterans to receive college credit by earning qualifying scores on any one or more of 34 assessments, allowing them to move directly into higher-level courses, saving time and money.
- Awards Credit For DSST Exam - DSST (formerly DANTES) are also credit-by-examination tests. Whereas CLEP tests are almost exclusively used for lower-level credit at regionally accredited institutions, DSST's are available for both upper and lower level credit.
- In State Tuition Extended For Active Duty - These institutions charge active duty Veterans, regardless of their actual state of residence, no more than the in-state tuition rate for a resident of the state.
- Approved For TA Funding - Military Tuition Assistance (TA) is a benefit paid to eligible members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Congress has given each service the ability to pay up to 100% of the tuition expenses for its members. Each service has its own criteria for eligibility, obligated service, application process and restrictions. This money is usually paid directly to the institution by the individual services.
- Yellow Ribbon Program - Tuition & fees may exceed the amount the Post 9/11 GI Bill will pay if you are attending a private school, or are attending a public school as a nonresident student. Institutions participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program make additional funds available for your education program without an additional charge to your GI Bill entitlement.
- Scholarships For Military - Apply for a military specific scholarship at these institutions to help drive down the cost of your education.
- Reduced Tuition For Military - These institutions offer tuition discounts for members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The Key Factor: Credit for Military Training
Not all institutions are going to adhere to all of these categories or participate in every student-Veteran benefits program. However, I do think that receiving credit for military experience is the most important consideration when searching for a college or university to attend.
If Veterans or military personnel are able to acquire credit for military training, they are already helping to drive down another important factor, the price of an education. More credits acquired equals less courses to take for that particular degree.
In my ranking, earning credit is the most important factor when searching for a college or university as a veteran or military personnel.
I have therefore ranked the top four most important categories from CollegeRecon's 17 veteran benefit categories as: ACE Credit For Military Experience, Follow ACE Standards For Credit, Awards Credit For DSST Exam & Awards Credit For CLEP Exam.
Now for the comparison.
#1 in the National Universities Rankings from US News & World Report
Let's dive into these rankings to see how US News & World Report's top ranking institutions hold up in terms of student-Veteran programs and assistance on campus.
While Princeton University is #1 in the National Colleges Rankings from US News & World Report, I found that Princeton only awards credit for the CLEP exam.
Ranking #1 in the National Liberal Arts Colleges on US News & World Report, Williams College doesn't participate in any of my top four most important categories. However, they do have BAH, Signed VA Principles of Excellence and the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Nova is #1 in the Regional Universities Rankings (North) via US News & World Report, but this school only awards credit for the CLEP exam.
Elon ranks #1 in the Regional Universities (South) on US News & World Report, but only awards credit for the CLEP exam.
Coming in at #1 in the Regional Universities Rankings (Midwest) on US News & World Report, Creighton University only awards credit for the CLEP exam.
Trinity is #1 in the Regional Universities Rankings (West) via US News & World Report, but doesn't participate in any of our top 4 most important categories. However, Trinity does participate in BAH, Veteran Upward Bound Program, ROTC, and the Yellow Ribbon Program.
United States Coast Guard Academy
The United States Coast Guard Academy ranks #1 in the Regional Colleges Rankings (North) on US News & World Report. Since this college is a military academy, I decided to pass onto #2 in this category to see what more I could find.
Cooper comes in at #2 in the Regional Colleges Rankings (North) via US News & World Report, but this school doesn't participate in any of our top 4 most important categories.
High Point University
#1 in the Regional Colleges Rankings (South) via US News & World Report, High Point University awards credit for the CLEP exam.
Taylor ranks #1 in the Regional Colleges Rankings (Midwest) on US News & World Report. I also found that Taylor awards for ACE Credit For military experience, follows ACE standards for credit, & awards credit or CLEP Exam. Definitely a veteran-friendly school!
Coming in at #1 in the Regional Colleges Rankings (West) via US News & World Report, this school awards for ACE Credit For Military Experience, follows ACE standards for credit, and awards credit for CLEP exam. Another veteran-friendly school!
What can you take away from this comparison?
As I have shown you, not many of the top institutions (according to US News & World Report's ranking) are giving Veterans and military personnel the opportunity to acquire credit for their service experience and knowledge.
Although this isn't the only way that institutions can support Veterans and military personnel, it is one of the most beneficial. Acquiring credit leads to saving both money and time, and no one can deny that starting off with credit under your belt gets you going on the right foot.
Should you base your choice on which college or university to attend solely on whether or not you can acquire credit for military experience?
I suggest getting the full picture of the institution's student-Veteran benefit programs before you enroll in or toss an institution to the side. Going through the university's full profile to review all 17 different categories is the best way to do this.
Each university has a "Military Offerings" tab on its CollegeRecon profile page where you can find all of the categories listed with a very simple 'yes' or 'no' as to whether they participate or not. If you have more questions about a specific university or their offerings you can begin a chat right there on CollegeRecon with the school's admissions personnel.
Another way to search for institutions with Veteran and military programs is to go directly to the search tab and click on all of the programs an institution must have in order for it to come up on your search. This way, the only schools you will be delving through will only have those programs that you deem necessary for your success.
The better picture you have of schools' offerings, the better decision you will be able to make on whether it fits your specific needs.
Back to the rankings
If I was to make my own list of top colleges and universities based only on the 17 categories of student-Veteran benefit programs what would that list look like? Look no further
The Top 8 Colleges and Universities with the Best Veterans Programs
- Wright State University-Main Campus
- Old Dominion University
- University of North Dakota
- Southern Illinois University- Carbondale Campus
- Eastern Kentucky University
- Jacksonville University
- Austin Peay State University
- University of Utah
These eight schools are the only not-for-profit institutions that participate in or provide all 17 of the veterans benefits categories.
How can this list better serve you?
Getting your degree is one of the best decisions you can make no matter your age or expertise. It can also be the hardest decision (I know this from experience). There are thousands of higher education institutions in the U.S., and you have to choose just one.
This list is a good place to start. Finding the right school that fits your needs is a daunting task. Having somewhere to start, or even just a list to begin from, can help you begin the process.
It's important to note that you can find schools based on numerous factors. If you look only at veteran support programs on campus, you'll have a very different list than US News and the other ranking websites. Balance out your needs, criteria, and Veteran preferences. And don't be afraid to chuck it all and pick the school that just feels right, regardless of veteran friendliness.
CollegeRecon is a virtual tool providing an environment for current and former military personnel to connect with over 3,000 not-for-profit colleges and universities from across the country. Just as training was crucial to your military service, education is vital to your success as a civilian. Built upon three pillars: Build, Search, and Connect - CollegeRecon equips you with the tools and protection to pursue your collegiate dreams.