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Research Questions

  1. How do military education benefits influence recruiting?
  2. How do military education benefits influence retention?

Service members have access to a variety of education benefits. A primary purpose of these benefits is to assist service members' transitions back to civilian life, but the benefits likely have implications for recruiting and retention as well. This research for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness takes a mixed-methods approach to examine the effects of education benefit programs on recruiting and retention–related outcomes, and to assess how the two largest education benefits may work together. As part of the study, RAND researchers examine Internet search data, qualitative data from focus groups with new service members and interviews with college counselors, survey data in which service members report their plans to use education benefits, and quantitative data on the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Tuition Assistance, as well as information from service members' administrative records. One main finding is that the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill appears to have had relatively small effects on recruiting and retention. A likely reason for this is that service members appear to lack a detailed understanding of this benefit, especially in their early careers. Another main finding is that service members appear to use both the Tuition Assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill programs together to further their education.

Key Findings

Post-9/11 GI Bill (PGIB) Benefits Appear to Play a Small Positive Role in Attracting Potential Recruits

  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill does appear to attract additional high-quality recruits.

Many New Recruits Know That Education Benefits Exist but Lack Insight on Details

  • Results from focus groups suggest that a general awareness of benefits, rather than specific restrictions or benefit components, is likely to be driving enlistment decisions.

Intention to Use Education Benefits Has Increased over Time

  • Data collected through the Status of Forces surveys suggest that intentions to use education benefits change throughout a service member's military career.

Passage of the PGIB Has a Small Negative Effect on Continuation, Which the Transfer Option Appears to Mitigate Somewhat

  • Continuation did decrease after the passage of the PGIB, and some of the decrease cannot be explained by other factors.

Interviews with College Advisors Suggest That Some Enrolled Service Members and Veterans May Lack Understanding of PGIB Benefits

  • However, current service members using the Tuition Assistance (TA) program were perceived to be generally well informed about their TA benefits.

TA and PGIB Benefits Complement Each Other Rather Than Overlap

  • Coordination between the two programs could prove beneficial.


  • Provide additional or more targeted information to potential recruits.
  • Expand and/or make mandatory counseling services for first-time PGIB users.
  • Expand and continue to fine-tune the GI Bill Comparison Tool.
  • Provide key information about benefit and transfer options and requirements to those nearing the end of an enlistment term or nearing transfer eligibility.
  • Encourage the use of the TA program.
  • Continue to focus on traditional tools, such as bonuses, to achieve force management.
  • Continue careful tracking of recruit quality and retention metrics.
  • Carefully calibrate the alignment between DoD and VA on changes to the PGIB.
  • Invest in additional research focused on forecasting the costs of education benefits.

This research was sponsored by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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