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Research Questions

  1. What are the key features of the military-related education benefit programs, including changes to these programs and historical utilization patterns of some of the key programs?
  2. What has been found in prior research on the impacts of these programs?
  3. What are the primary challenges policymakers face for improving the evaluation, implementation, and efficiency of the benefit programs?

Since the 1944 passage of the original GI Bill following World War II, the military has provided veterans with a collection of financial aid benefits designed to help them attend college. While research has shown that these programs have helped many veterans acquire a college education, less is known about the impact of more recent educational benefits for veterans. This is especially true of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which, in conjunction with a number of other assistance programs, has afforded veterans new educational opportunities. The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers tuition subsidies paid directly to institutions, a housing allowance tied to cost of living, and a book stipend, which in combination are usually more generous than preceding GI Bills. However, issues such as rising tuition costs; an increasing presence of low-quality, for-profit institutions that target veterans; and a potentially confusing array of benefit options could mitigate the impact of these programs on the recruitment, retention, and human capital development of service members. This report contextualizes these issues and formulates a research agenda to address them.

Key Findings

Veterans Can Choose from a Wide Selection of Education Benefit Programs

  • The two most significant programs are the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is the largest expansion of benefits since the original GI Bill in 1944.
  • The MGIB and Post-9/11 GI Bills are complemented by several other programs, such as the Yellow Ribbon Program and the MGIB-Selected Reserve and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program.

Participation Data Revealed Trends

  • Nearly half of all veterans separating before 2000 have claimed benefits before the option to do so expires.
  • Claim rates are highest for Marines, Hispanic veterans, and for those with higher Armed Forces Qualifying Test scores.
  • Take-up rates have been increasing over time, which suggests that an even greater fraction of service members are taking advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (although our data do not allow us to confirm this conjecture).

Little Research Exists on the Impact of Current Educational Assistance Programs on Veterans' Outcomes

  • Policymakers need better research on quality and quantity of education that veterans receive.
  • Policymakers need better research on quality and quantity of education that veterans receive.For-profit colleges are on the rise, charge higher tuition, and target veterans. There are concerns about the educational quality that they provide, and that their students are less likely to complete degree programs and face greater unemployment and student loan burdens.
  • The benefit options can be an embarrassment of riches, and veterans may not understand the choices or eligibilities well enough to make the smartest decisions about funding their education.


  • Extensive data collection will help track veterans' outcomes during school and through their transitions into the labor market.
  • How tuition subsidies and other benefits affect recruitment, retention, education, and labor-market outcomes should be quantified.
  • A rigorous research design should be developed to measure the extent to which benefits affect college choice decisions and how this affects program costs.
  • Another metric for consideration should be the consequences of benefit-choice complexity on veterans' choices, financial aid and education.
  • Interventions could be devised to reduce this complexity and improve benefit choices.

This research was 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 Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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