North Carolina has long been associated with a strong military presence, from the eight active military bases in the state to the more than 700,000 military veterans who reside here. Military veterans make up about 8.5% of the state’s population, compared to 7.1% nationwide.
As part of Military Appreciation Month, we’d like to highlight some of the educational opportunities and challenges faced by the military community.
The GI Bill (officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944) was established to help veterans of World War II. Following the tragic events of 9/11, Congress authorized additional funds for individuals who served on active duty after September 10, 2001.
About 54% of students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill attended public universities in FY2018, while 24% attended private schools, and 22% went to for-profit institutions. The average student-loan debt for veterans in 2016 was $31,000 at for-profit schools, and $25,000-$26,000 at public and nonprofit schools.
According to a 2017 study from the National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST) in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, 72% of veterans using the Post 9/11 GI Bill have earned a post-secondary degree or were still enrolled at the time of the study. The remaining 28% either did not return to school following their last known term, or withdrew during the term. Oddly enough, the number of veterans using the GI Bill has declined in recent years.
The same study estimated that around 100,000 veterans using the Post 9/11 GI Bill would be graduating annually in the foreseeable future. Of those graduates, about 40% will earn bachelor’s degrees, 25% associate degrees, 17% master’s degrees, 10% vocational education certificates, and 1.5% doctorate or post-doctorate degrees.
Among the most popular fields of study for students using the Post 9/11 GI Bill are business, management, marketing, health professions, liberal arts and sciences, homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting, and related protective services. Student veterans are also earning degrees in high-demand majors such as computer sciences, engineering and related fields, and education.
Even if the desire is there, many members of the military community face challenges in pursing higher education.
Among them are Reservists/National Guard members being activated in the middle of an academic term; most student veterans being non-traditional students with families and part- or full-time work obligations; and veterans with service-connected disabilities requiring travel for treatment or appointments, which can take away from study time.
Another challenge is the predatory practices of some for-profit colleges that use high-pressure tactics to get veterans to use their GI Bill to pay for school, but then suddenly shut down or deliver a substandard educational experience. Last year, several for-profit schools were suspended from receiving GI Bill funds but were subsequently reinstated by the Department of Veterans Affairs after supposedly addressing their deceptive or misleading enrollment practices.
WGU has been named a Military Friendly® School for 11 consecutive years. Currently, about one in five WGU students enrolled in North Carolina is affiliated with the military community. Earlier this year, the university hired eight staff members—all military veterans—specifically to further military relations nationwide. Additionally, WGU North Carolina’s new State Director, Ben Coulter, Ed.D., served as an officer in the U.S. Army for 20 years.
“Many industries now require advanced degrees, including certification, from their professional workforce,” said Ryan Bauman, Strategic Partnerships Manager, Military Outreach. “Institutions like WGU can provide these solutions through affordable, accessible, and flexible programs that help guide members of our military community down their individual pathways to success.”
In addition to WGU’s ongoing Military Appreciation Scholarships available nationwide, WGU North Carolina is proud to announce its third annual Military Service Scholarships available to members of the military community in North Carolina. The application deadline is July 31, 2021. More information can be found at nc.wgu.edu/militaryservice.