No housing allowance for veterans who take only online courses

Service members who attend for-profit colleges are more likley to take online courses.

Military service members have to take at least one face-to-face course before they are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s housing allowance, although some veterans are unclear about the allowance requirement and how it affects their class selection.

In a report issued by the American Council on Education (ACE) Nov. 11, servicemen and women who use the new benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill passed last year said face-to-face classes were preferable to online classes during the transition from the battlefield to the lecture hall.

But some veterans whose course load was mostly online said they signed up for one brick-and-mortar course only to receive the GI Bill’s housing allowance. And in ACE focus groups, soldiers said they thought they would need more than one traditional course to apply for living expenses.

“That was something that was less widely understood in some cases,” said Jennifer Steele, an associate policy researcher for the RAND Corporation and an author of the ACE’s report, which advocated for more advising designated specifically for service members. “Many [veterans] weren’t aware of the exact requirements.”

The bill’s provision preventing only-online students from receiving allowance benefits wasn’t a snub of web-based education, Steele said, but a reflection of service members’ need for interaction with other veterans on campus.

“It wasn’t about the relative value of online versus face to face education,” Steele said. “Most [veterans] felt they were going to be more successful on campus … but many students wanted the convenience of taking online courses that fit their busy lifestyles.”

Monthly housing allowance ranges from $801 in rural parts of Ohio to $2,071 in New York City in the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Beneficiaries of the revamped bill also receive $1,000 a year toward textbook expenses.

Veterans who take college courses at popular for-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University averaged six online college credits per semester, according to the ACE report. All other students averaged two online credits each semester.

Steele said this wasn’t a surprise because for-profit institutions represent some of the largest online programs in the country.