The number of people using the Post-9/11 GI Bill has fallen substantially for each of the past two fiscal years, federal data indicates. About 54,000 fewer people used the GI Bill in fiscal 2017 and 2018, a 7% decline both years, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Officials of veteran service organizations, and some of the schools that enroll the greatest numbers of GI Bill users, said they’re not overly concerned about the falling GI Bill usage — at least not yet. Fayetteville Technical Community College has been ranked No. 2 by Military Times in its “Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges.” Schools like FTCC, which have put the most thought and effort into tailoring programs and policies around veterans’ unique experiences, have experienced growth.
Experts offered several possible explanations for declining enrollments, including more vets earning degrees, GI Bill rules that could be discouraging vets from using the benefit and the strong national economy. Meanwhile, public universities continued to account for most GI Bill students. “A lot more of the public and the not-for-profit private schools are offering distance education now,” said James Schmeling, executive vice president of Student Veterans of America.
For years, the for-profit University of Phoenix has enrolled more GI Bill users than any other institution, but it has seen plummeting GI Bill enrollment recently. In fiscal year 2018, the school shed more than 5,940 Post-9/11 GI Bill students — about 21% — dropping to 22,428 such students. The school declined to answer questions about its falling GI Bill enrollment.
The recent overall drops in GI Bill usage in fiscal 2018, among all universities, mirror a similar trend affecting military tuition assistance, which saw usage rates decline 6% from fiscal 2016 to 2017 and then go down another 2.5% from fiscal 2017 to 2018. The 7% declines charted in fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018 were calculated by adding all schools’ GI Bill populations and comparing year-on-year changes.
Veterans Affairs did not respond to interview requests to discuss declining GI Bill usage.
In addition to enrollment losses, the amount of money spent on GI Bill benefits decreased by nearly $287 million in fiscal 2018 to about $4.6 billion, a 5.9% drop.
Officials offered a variety of theories to explain the falling numbers. “A reduction in beneficiaries may indicate more veterans successfully complete degrees and are moving into the workforce,” said John Aldrich, a vice president at the country’s fourth most popular GI Bill school, American Military University, a for-profit institution.
Another possible explanation Aldrich offered is that students may be turning away from the GI Bill because it shrinks their housing stipends if they attend school entirely online.
The Forever GI Bill, signed into law in August 2017, allowed anyone who left the military after January 2013 to use the GI Bill at any time in the future. Previously, all benefits had to be used within 15 years of separation. In addition, officials pointed to a common higher education trend: More people go to college to improve their job prospects in bad economies, while fewer go to school when the economy is strong.