Military Education Benefits and Enlisted College Programs

What the Recruiter Never Told You About Education Programs

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The Active Duty Montgomery G.I. Bill is the same for all of the active duty services. The choice of whether or not to participate in the program is up to the recruit and is made (after a briefing) in basic training

If a recruit elects to participate, his military pay is reduced by $100 per month for 12 months ($1,200 total). In return, the recruit receives education benefits. The active duty G.I. Bill Benefits can be used while on active duty, or after (honorable) discharge, but must be used within ten years of discharge. To use MGIB while on active duty, you must serve two continuous years of active duty.

There are a few different scenarios for how the MGIB can be used after honorable separation from active duty. With three years of active duty, you must have served three continuous years of active duty, unless you were honorably discharged early for one of a very few specific reasons, such as medical.

You only need two continuous years of active duty if you first enlisted for two years of active duty, or you have an obligation to serve four years in the Selected Reserve. You must enter the selected reserve within one year of your release from active duty. Alternately, those with two years of active duty who were honorably separated early for one of the very specific reasons allowed (such as medical) are also eligible.

It's important to note that if you are separated early, and lose your G.I. Bill qualification, you do not get your money back. It is because, under the law, the money taken out of your pay is not considered a "contribution," but rather a "reduction in pay."

Reserve/Guard Montgomery G.I. Bill

The Reserve/Guard Montgomery G.I. Bill is the same as the Active Duty Montgomery G.I. Bill, with a few exceptions:

Your military pay is not reduced for this program. However, your monetary benefits are not nearly as generous as the Active Duty Program. While you must enlist for a period of six years or more, you can begin using the benefits immediately after boot camp and technical or A-school. But benefits terminate if you don't serve your entire enlistment contract period.

Even if you don't separate from the Reserves, MIGB benefits expire 14 years after the date you become eligible for the program.

Active Duty Tuition Assistance

All of the services offer 100 percent tuition assistance for courses taken while on active duty. However, there are limitations per year per individual. Additionally, there are limits on the amount of tuition assistance available per semester hour.

Guard/Reserve Tuition Assistance

Both the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard offer tuition assistance as well.

Additionally, many states offer additional education benefits for members of their National Guard (National Guard is controlled—for the most part—by the individual States, not the Federal Government so that benefits can vary widely from state-to-state).

The Air Force Reserves give 100 percent tuition assistance for undergraduate degree programs, with some limitations an annual maximum. The Army Reserves offers 100 percent tuition assistance for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and the Coast Guard Reserves offer tuition assistance for both undergraduate and graduate degrees as well.

The Navy and Marine Corps Reserves do not offer a tuition assistance programs. However, for all of the reserve services, military members who are called to active get the same tuition assistance benefits as their active duty counterparts. That means, for example, that a Reserve Marine, called to active duty, would be eligible for the Marine Corps Active Duty tuition assistance program.

The Community College of the Air Force

The Air Force is the only service that issues college credits and college degrees. The Air Force does this through the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF), which is a fully accredited community college. It issues fully accredited college transcripts, and awards Associate of Science degrees to Air Force members in educational areas of their military specialties, using a combination of credits for off-duty college courses, military schools, and military experience.

Getting a Degree While on Active Duty

Each military base has an Education Office, who have arranged for colleges and universities to conduct college courses on-base, leading to various degree programs. And even for those who don't work a traditional schedule, distance-learning has changed the face of getting an off-duty education. 

In addition to taking courses off duty, each of the services has programs which allow some enlisted to remain on active duty and attend college full-time, receiving full pay and allowances. Some of these programs lead to a commission as an officer; some do not. Most require that you commit yourself for a longer hitch in the military. Most require that you obtain some college (usually two or three years) on your own, first, and all of these programs are extremely competitive. There are many more applicants for these programs than there are available slots each year.

Enlisted members who do obtain a college degree while on active duty can apply for a commission through Officers Candidate School (Officer Training School for the Air Force). Again, there are generally many more applicants each year than there are available slots.

The Army and the Coast Guard are the only services in which an enlisted member can obtain a commission without having a four-year college degree. Enlisted members of the Army can attend OCS and be commissioned with only 90 college credits. However, they must complete their degree within one year of being commissioned, or they risk being reverted (rifted) to their previous enlisted rank.