The Pentagon spent nearly $563 million on tuition assistance (TA) for its military professionals in 2011. According to the February 23, 2012 Martin Corps Times “Half of TA Money Goes to For Profit Schools” article nearly half that money went to for-profit postsecondary schools. Although the government has stated that it will look into how TA is spent, possibly moving more of the money to not-for-profit schools, there is another step that can help ensure the government’s TA money is spent wisely; it is a step that must be taken by military professionals.

Conducting Due Diligence Before Enrolling in College

Similar to how military members clean and inspect their equipment before heading out on field training missions, they profit when they examine schools, weighing options and benefits, before signing enrollment contracts. For example, before enrolling in colleges, universities and trade schools, military members can check facts about schools, such as:

Graduation Rates (find out the percentage of students who graduated with degrees within four to five years)
Job Placement Rates (ask admissions counselors at schools for the percentage of graduates who get hired into jobs in their major within one year of graduating with degrees)
Find out if postsecondary schools, including trade schools, are fully accredited by organizations recognized by the United States Department of Education (DOE)
Additionally, checking the job outlook for college majors they are thinking about declaring can help military members avoid majoring in career fields that are experiencing a lack of job growth. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) publishes annual job outlook reports by occupation under its Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Facts, figures and data available through these digital reports include:

Job growth rate expected for occupations or career fields over a ten year period
Top employers by industry for occupations (e.g. computer technician, chemical engineer, project manager)
Median hourly or annual income for occupations and the wages that 50 percent of the professionals working in the occupations earned in recent years

College degrees and professional licenses required to start working at certain occupations
Types of work hours and working environment associated with different occupations
Being Smart About Military Tuition Assistance

TA benefits received by military professionals are well deserved. After all, professionals serving in the military devote time to their country during the same years many other high school graduates attend college full-time and/or start working civilian jobs that don’t require them to endure combat. On the other hand, because of TA benefits, military professionals may have it easier than other students when it comes to gaining access to money to pay for college tuition. For example, there is the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Through this program qualifying military members can receive up to $17,500 in TA if they attend private postsecondary schools. There is also the Montgomery GI Bill, a program that allows military professionals to contribute a portion of their salary toward their education. Other TA programs, like the Reserve Education Assistance Program and the Veterans Education Assistance Program, make it possible for qualifying military professionals to receive up to 36 months of TA.

When these qualifying military members are smart about their TA decisions they can benefit economically, career-wise and educationally for years. Their spouses and children can also reap the rewards of their smart decisions, possibly using money they saved due to not having to pay college expenses out-of-pocket to start and build family savings and investment accounts.