Education Benefits for Service Members and their Families

by Lila Quintiliani, AFC®

Service members and their families can save on college and education expenses by taking advantage of available military benefits. But it is not always easy to keep up with the vast amount f information on the topic. Here is an overview of some of the resources out there: 

GI Bill – Use it or Transfer it

If it has been a while since you’ve looked at GI Bill benefits, you may want to do some fresh research. The recent Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the “Forever GI Bill” will bring significant changes over the coming years. Some of the immediate changes include an elimination of the 15-year time limit, assistance for students affected by school closures, and a work study expansion.

There have also been recent (as of July 2019) changes to the rules for transferring GI Bill benefits to dependents. Now eligibility to transfer benefits will be limited to service members with at least 6 years but not more than 16 years of active duty or selected reserve service. For more information on the somewhat complicated transfer process, visit the VA site.

Tuition Assistance

All four services and the Coast Guard currently offer tuition assistance to Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard service members provided they have sufficient remaining time in service.  Tuition assistance is independent of Veteran’s Administration benefits, so it is possible to use the GI Bill at the same time to “top up” and pay for expenses that Tuition Assistance will not cover.  Military OneSource has a good overview of the program. Since each service has unique rules and requirements, it is best to talk to a counselor at your installation’s Education Center for details.

Spouse Education Opportunities

The Department of Defense has established a comprehensive, spouse-centered program called Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO).  This program offers education and career counseling services, a state licensure initiative, and the popular My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) scholarships.  Counseling and referral services are available even if a spouse does not qualify for MyCAA. The MySeco website includes multiple scholarship search engines.

Army Emergency Relief has spouse scholarships and other educational resources and Air Force Aid Society offers spouse grants.  The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society has education loans and grants.  The National Military Family Association (NMFA) has several military spouse scholarship programs and information on spouse education.  

Scholarships for Military Children

Children of service members have several military-focused scholarships available to them.   The service branch aid societies (Army Emergency ReliefAir Force AidNavy Marine Corps Relief Society) all have scholarships.  Fisher House and the Defense Commissary Agency give out scholarships each year through the Scholarships for Military Children programMilitary Officers Association of America and many other military organizations have scholarship programs.

An important benefit that military children have is the ability to receive in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities from the state where they reside or are permanently stationed.  They may retain these benefits even if the service member is reassigned.  Military OneSource has comprehensive general information on military children and college, and is a good starting point.

Fisher House has a new search engine that allows you to search for military-connected scholarships.

Start Early and Stay Organized

It is important to keep up with deadlines for the various programs mentioned above.  Many of the scholarships have deadlines in the first quarter of the year, with information initially being released in November and December. 

It is a good idea to get on mailing lists and sign up for newsletters from scholarship-granting institutions.  Early applications to universities are generally due at the beginning of November and regular applications are typically due in January.  Keep up with requirements, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Do you want help saving for a goal? Take the Military Saves Pledge and then visit militarysaves.org for more tips and resources.

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