First-of-its-kind report explores impact of the Post-9/11 GI Bill®

For the first time ever, a new report provides policymakers and education leaders with an impact assessment of the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Educational Assistance Act of 2008, otherwise known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill® (PGIB), which increased postsecondary education benefits for veterans who served after Sept. 10, 2001. Investment in the program has been substantial: between 2009 and 2020, PGIB obligations totaled $108 billion. The benefit covers full tuition and fees for eligible veterans enrolled at any public college or university (or provides a capped amount for students at private colleges). PGIB also provides a monthly housing allowance based on local cost of living and a stipend for books and supplies. 

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Prior to this report, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s impact was sparse and siloed, despite the program’s sizeable investment in college access for veterans and their families, Alexandria Walton Radford, senior director of the American Institutes for Research’s (AIR) Center for Applied Research in Postsecondary Education and lead author of the report, told Inside Higher Ed.

As the first report in a larger study on PGIB, A First Look at Post-9/11 GI Bill-Eligible Enlisted Veterans’ Outcomes looks at the number and characteristics of veterans who used PGIB benefits and their postsecondary and employment outcomes. To evaluate PGIB use, the study relied on unprecedented access to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); the Veterans Benefit Administration; the U.S. Department of Defense; the Internal Revenue Service; the U.S. Census Bureau; and the National Student Clearinghouse, which gathers national enrollment and degree completion data. Researchers from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the American Institutes for Research looked at every PGIB-eligible enlisted veteran who ended their military service as of June 30, 2018, and was 65 years old or younger as of Dec. 31, 2019. 

More than half of eligible veterans using benefits

From 2009 to 2019, 54% (or more than 2.7 million) of PGIB-eligible enlisted veterans used PGIB benefits. That share increased to 62% when researchers included PGIB users who also transferred these benefits to a spouse or dependent as of Sept. 30, 2018. Forty-seven percent of PGIB recipients completed their degree within six years, double the completion rate (23%) of financially independent postsecondary students pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree. 

Related: Colleges and universities seek to attract, retain military-connected students >

Consistent with national data, incomes increased with degree attainment. Although earnings varied across degree types and fields of study, PGIB recipients who completed an associate or bachelor’s degree earned an average of $44,100 and $55,700, respectively. PGIB users with a graduate degree had the highest average salary, at $69,900.

Degree completion and earnings gaps by sex and race/ethnicity reflected nationwide inequities. Female veterans were more likely to use PGIB benefits and enroll in postsecondary institutions than male veterans and were more likely to complete their degree within six years. Veterans from historically underrepresented backgrounds were also more likely to use PGIB benefits and enroll in postsecondary programs than PGIB-eligible veterans overall, but they were less likely to complete their degrees within six years. Female veterans and veterans from historically underrepresented groups earned less than their counterparts, even when they attained the same degrees. However, earning gaps by sex, race, and ethnicity were smaller for veterans than the overall population.

Veterans in rural areas were less likely to use PGIB benefits and less likely to complete their degree than veterans in more urban areas. They also earned less than their more urban counterparts. Disabled veterans were more likely to use benefits, but veterans with more severe disabilities had lower postsecondary completion rates and earnings.

This data can help policymakers, educators, and student affairs professionals improve college access, financial aid, and the labor market value of various degrees, as well as students’ ability to meet their basic needs, experts tell Inside Higher Ed.

“[The report] clearly helps us think about college access issues and…certainly provides information about what completion rates look like for those who receive this kind of financial support,” Radford said, according to Inside Higher Ed. “By putting data together, we can get some real answers.”

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