Tagged: veteran education

Pentagon budgets for 2015; Congress debates changes to 2014 COLA

Posted by Debi Teter

militaryauthority.com federal budget breakdown“The President’s 2015 Budget will be released on March 4. Now that Congress has finished its work on this year’s appropriations, the Administration is able to finalize next year’s Budget. We are moving to complete the Budget as quickly as possible to help Congress return to regular order in the annual budget process,” Steve Posner, a spokesman for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said in an email last week.

The Defense Department, which receives the most funding of any federal agency, plans to spend about $606 billion in fiscal 2014 and is also expected to release its budget request for fiscal 2015 on March 4.

We would be very surprised, though, if the 2015 budget becomes a settled matter so many months before it goes into effect. After all, the 2014 budget is still being “tweaked” by Congress to fix issues pertaining to COLA and veterans’ health benefits even though it was passed without the usual drama we’re accustomed to seeing in Washington.

The cap on COLA for working-age military retirees was just enacted by Congress last month in an effort to save $6 billion over the next 10 years as part of the bipartisan budget deal. But after military organizations decried the move as yet another broken promise to service members, Congress seems desperate to undo the cap before it becomes a larger political issue.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has introduced a mammoth 400+ page bill called the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014? which ties the COLA cap to an overhaul of other veterans benefits. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) backs the bill, which seeks to strengthen more than 130 veterans programs of every kind.

The bill won’t sail through Congress as easily as the budget did, however. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla) blocked a similar, but smaller, bill last month because the spending wasn’t paid for by other offsets. Coburn argued that the VA has increased spending 58% in the last five years while showing that it can’t effectively administer the benefits it already provides, so adding new health and education benefits cannot be justified.


#VeteransBenefits #2014COLA #2015Budget

Image source: omnilligence.net

The Best Education Advice I’ve Never Received

Posted by Christine A. Shelly

militaryauthority.com education advice ive never receivedA new school year has begun in most parts of the country. And since September 11, 2001, the start of the school year also provides a poignant reminder of freedom, democracy, and all that we hold dear. While it is true that the educational system in our country is in need of improvement in many areas, we can’t ignore the fact that few places on Earth provide the freedom to pursue the number and variety of educational and professional opportunities we have here in the United States.

Whether this marks the start of your first or final semester, the beginning of a new academic year can bring on a case of the butterflies (or worse). Many students experience anxiety and stress about their educational path and future job prospects. After more than a decade’s worth of experience in higher ed – and my own learning adventures – I have two pieces of advice that you aren’t likely to get from your education officers or even from your family.

Don’t be a follower.

You’ve probably been told by many well-wishing people “follow your passion.” Or, “follow your heart and the rest will fall into place.” Although it sounds wonderful, this kind of advice is better suited for relationships than for your education and future work.

In today’s economy, simply doing what feels good isn’t a sustainable practice – it can lead to frustration, accumulating debt, and a string of broken dreams. Plus, if you’re a working adult with a family to support while you go to school, you have responsibilities that you can’t simply shirk to follow your own interests.

Instead – bring your passion with you. Whatever you do, give it 110%. Find something to love about whatever you’re doing and give it all you’ve got. Look for the opportunity to share your passion with others and leave your own unique mark.

Strive for harmony, not balance.

“Work/Life balance,” as blissfully ideal as it sounds, is something that everyone seeks but few accomplish. It’s an incredibly popular topic that has everyone from CEOs to bloggers weighing in with their opinions and ‘how-to’s.’

Be careful about setting yourself up to achieve someone else’s idea of a balanced life. What works for them may not work for anyone else. Struggling to achieve an unrealistic ideal adds unnecessary (unhealthy) pressure.

What I would propose instead, is to strive for harmony as opposed to balance. Think about those televised singing competitions – sometimes a group is asked to sing in harmony together. It works well for some groups; others, not so much. In some groups, each of the singers wants to extend their 15 seconds of fame so badly, they sing over each other and refuse to yield the spotlight. The result is a musical mess that hurts to the ears.

Accept that there will be times when one aspect of your life takes priority over another. One area of your life will “sing lead” for a while and the others will support it and make it shine. You are the only person who can decide your priorities – your “lead singers,” if you will. Too many lead singers and you get a train wreck of a song. Too many backup singers and the music doesn’t really shine. The challenge is in making sure the right voices are singing lead at the right time.

The decision to earn your degree is one of the most important you can make, and if you’re reading this, you very likely already understand that. No matter where you are in life – whether you’re a working adult, a veteran, a military spouse or recent high school graduate, as you move forward in your educational pursuits and your professional career, you will be on the receiving end of all kinds of well-meaning advice. I hope the two pieces of advice I offered will help guide you toward achieving your goals. Best of luck to you as you begin the fall semester.

I’d love to hear from you. What kind of education or career advice has helped you? What do you wish you’d known when you started out?









Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.

Must-See Websites for Military Students

Posted by Christine A. Shelly

militaryauthority.com must see websites for military studentsMilitary students – that is, students who serve their country while they work toward completing a degree – have a perspective that is unique to other students. So it makes sense that the resources they need while they’re in college might be a little different than those of the average first year college student.

Below is a list of websites that we’ve found helpful for military students. From student support organizations to scholarship assistance to academic help, these are some of our favorites. We can’t possibly list them all, but if there’s a site you’ve found particularly helpful, let us know in the comments below. Be sure to tell us what you find useful about it, too.


Financial Support


This foundation helps military families with scholarships and offers support for children and spouses of disabled or deceased service members.


Research/Academic support


What started out as a college blog project has become one of the most utilized student resources on the web for study advice and strategies. Study Hacks says their mission is ‘demystifying student success.’ 



This is an extensive collection of reference material, databases and other resources to help you find and check facts.



The CollegeBoard website has a substantial amount of information for students applying to and attending college.


Life/Work Resources

After Deployment – In-depth information, assessments and tools for transitioning/post-transition military.



Request your service records at this website. You’ll need your military service records for college applications, plus you can have them evaluated to determine how much of your training and experience can be counted toward your degree. 



Student Veterans is an organization whose focus is to empower military veterans with the educational resources imperative to success in the 21st century. They do this through support and advocacy on behalf of veterans.



This website is dedicated to connecting veterans to corporate business leaders through two free programs. Bonus – Jon Stewart just joined their advisory council.



And my host for this list, MilitaryAuthority.com is a site created for the military community that includes helpful information about education benefits, career planning, pay, retirement planning and healthcare benefits. There’s also a message board for locating and connecting with other military friends as well as helpful tools for finding military-friendly schools.


These sites are just a few of the online oases available for military students – and just fyi, mentioning them in this list does not constitute an endorsement. We weren’t compensated in any way. The Internet has made staying connected and informed so much easier – but you have to wade through a lot of garbage to get to the gems. Hopefully, this list will offer student service members a good place to start. 










Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.

Obama Proposes Radical Reform of College Financial Aid

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

militaryauthority.com obama college financial aid reformThe President has outlined a proposal for a sweeping reform of how federal college aid is allocated, which could affect what schools students can afford, after about 2018.

The problem of inadequate returns on college aid has been attracting Congressional scrutiny for some time. Outstanding student loan balances now top $1 trillion and they are still growing, yet a substantial portion of Americans now in their mid-20s and even older have not graduated with a degree. Among those who have graduated, a substantial number are defaulting on student loans, or barely getting by because of a deeply depressed job market for young graduates.

President Obama introduced his plan while speaking to a college audience yesterday in Buffalo, New York. Obama’s plan would tie student aid to a series of metrics on which colleges must compete against each other. Examples would include default rates, affordability and cost, scholarship availability, graduation rates, earnings of graduates, advanced degrees attained, percentage of students receiving Pell grants, and the like.

The Administration plans to push to make the new system effective in 2018, giving colleges a chance to improve their ratings in these key metrics. The extra time will also give federal officials a chance to refine their criteria.

The Obama Administration suggested that extra resources would go to schools that did well on these factors. Specifically, students enrolled at schools that rank high according to the new criteria would receive more generous Pell grants and lower interest on student loans.

Additionally, the President called for taxpayers to fund a bonus for schools that demonstrate that they actually graduate a high percentage of students have received Pell Grants in the past.

The President’s plan also called for more accountability on the part of students. Obama’s proposal would make students show periodic progress, expressed as a percentage of completion, toward a specific degree before the student could receive additional federal assistance.

Veterans may also benefit from a proposal, also outlined within Obama’s plan, to encourage colleges to award credits for professional experiences, life experiences and on-the-job training.


Pay As You Earn

The President also expressed a desire to expand ‘pay-as-you-earn’ programs. These programs tie student loan payments to income. The more you earn, the more you can afford to pay on your student loan. The president’s plan calls for a cap on student loan payments equal to 10 percent of a student’s income.

Critics of the plan are already lining up. Some of the points raised in objection include:

  1. Basing the criteria on graduation rates creates a perverse incentive for colleges to game the system in the worst possible way: By lowering standards.
  2. It would take a new bureaucracy to administer the program and maintain the ranking system.
  3. The rankings could take schools serving remote or hard-to-serve communities and put them out of business altogether.
  4. The system could unfairly penalize colleges that serve nontraditional students. For example, older students with more established, full-time careers are more likely to get sidetracked from their degree program by familial responsibilities and professional opportunities. These could well cause them to withdraw from a degree program through no fault of the institution.
  5. The very fact that the federal government is creating necessarily arbitrary ratings criteria invites the possibility of rent seeking, manipulation and cronyism. Key members of Congress could manipulate criteria to favor colleges in their own districts, for example.
  6. The plan seems tailor made to route federal dollars to traditional state colleges with largely liberal faculties and reliable Democratic Party donors at the expense of colleges in the private sector, who often hire part-time instructors who are actually working in their fields, and who are less likely to be political allies of the President.

Another more indirect criticism is that it won’t matter how good a job these colleges do creating qualified graduates if the economy is not creating jobs to employ them.

At the same time, Congress also has a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure an adequate return on money committed to providing financial aid. Colleges with inordinately high default rates or that do not produce graduates commensurate with the amount of money invested are not providing a great ROI when the same dollar can be awarded to another student with a better shot at success and eventual repayment of the loan.



The President has little authority to accomplish this on his own: At some point, Congress will have to pass legislation for the President to get what he wants. Such an occurrence is not likely as long as the House of Representatives remains under GOP control. 

Obama Signs Student Loan Deal

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Obama signs student loan dealPresident Obama has signed a broad student loan deal into law last week. The new law restores public subsidies of student loan interest rates, translating to lower costs of borrowing for those taking out federally-guaranteed loans for school.

The new law is expected to benefit about 11 million college students and former students. Some estimates peg the annual savings for the average borrower at $1,500 per year.

The federal government had been subsidizing borrowing costs on Stafford loans, which allowed students to borrow at a below-market rate of 3.4 percent. Student loan interest is also generally tax deductible, so the effective after-tax rate on student loan interest was even lower.

However, the subsidy expired as of July 1, which effectively doubled the rates borrowers had to pay out-of-pocket to 6.8 percent.

The new law restores the subsidy, and should allow students taking out new loans this year to borrow at 3.85 percent for undergraduates. Graduate students, on the other hand, will be able to borrow money at 5.4 percent, while parents of students can borrow at 6.4 percent.

These rates are tied to changes in Treasury rates, but also come with caps: The law provides that the most undergraduates can pay in student loan interest is 8.25 percent per year, while graduate students’ rates are capped at 9 percent. Parents’ rates are capped at 10.5 percent, regardless of what happens to Treasury rates, through the 2015 academic year.

Student loans are becoming an increasingly dicey problem, as total debt increases faster than the availability of jobs for newly-minted graduates and undergraduates to move into after leaving school that compensate enough to pay off the loans while still getting ahead. Total school debt now tops $1 trillion and is approaching $1.2 trillion, while new home purchases for first-time homebuyers have fallen by 29 percent over the last year, according to a recent data release by the National Association of Realtors. The combination of data suggest that student loans and a poor job market are combining to squeeze out other spending by the 22 to 35-year-old demographic.

That’s where your Post 9/11 GI Bill comes in handy, along with possible Tuition Assistance benefits, the Student Loan Repayment Program, and the VA Home Loan program. This combination of benefits can give veterans and servicemembers a leg up against other students when considering their education plans. This combination of benefits can blunt the costs of higher education, and make school a much better value for qualifying veterans than the general population.

The law expires in 2015 – making student loans a sure flashpoint in the 2016 election cycle, which includes a Presidential election. 

GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act Advances in House

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

GI Bill Tuition Fairness ActThe GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 advanced to the full House Veterans Affairs Committee on April 25th. If ultimately passed, the law would allow veterans attending state schools as GI Bill recipients to qualify for in-state tuition, regardless of residency. Educational institutions that do not comply would be disapproved for GI Bill funding.

The law was first introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida) and Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and currently has 42 cosponsors, 24 of whom are Democrats. So the bill has strong early support on both sides of the aisle.

The legislative affairs director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War lent the organization’s support to the bill at a hearing if the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this month, delivering the following statement:

Because of the nature of military service, service members are required to move around according to the needs of their service. Typically that means they are forced to settle down and reside for years in communities outside of their original state of residence. Service members who are stationed at a particular base or post may live in that state for years, buy a home in that state, shop and pay local taxes to that state, raise a family in that state, and generally become part of the community in that locale. However, that service member is technically still not considered a resident of that state. So if he or she retires or ends his or her term of service in that state and wants to stay local and go back to school as a new veteran in the place where he or she has already functionally settled, that service member would nevertheless be considered a non-resident as a new veteran there and would be forced to pay the often-exorbitant out-of-state tuition rates for his or her education there.?? 

Veterans who wind up living in an area outside of their home states through no fault or choice of their own because of the obligations associated with serving their country in uniform should not be denied the opportunity to use their deserved and earned education benefits to cover the full cost of their education in an area where they have already become functional – but not technical – residents simply because of their military service. This bill would remedy that gap in tuition and residency fairness and ensure that all veterans can take advantage of the promise of the Post-9/11 GI Bill without undue hardship.

The bill also has the support of the American Legion.

“This proposed bill would correct an unfair and widespread financial burden for America’s veterans,” states James E. Koutz, national commander of The American Legion. “Veterans’ education benefits have been capped at $17,500 per academic year, and that is often not even close to covering out-of-state tuition costs. By automatically granting in-state status to student veterans, Congress would remove a difficult burden from our men and women who served their country honorably in uniform.”

The full text of the bill is available here.

Possible downsides include the possibility that some state school systems may find it unfeasible to grant in-state tuition to so many GI Bill recipients. This could be particularly true of certain in-demand, high-status state universities. If they don’t play along, and get their eligibility for GI Bill funding pulled, veterans looking to attend those schools – especially those midway through their degree programs, would be seriously and negatively affected. However, no known education associations or other lobbying groups have weighed in formally against the bill, which enjoys widespread support among powerful veterans organizations.

Vet Creates Own Path with G.I. Bill Benefits

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

Robert E. Lee did it in order to map the “impassible” Pedregal during the Mexican-American War.

George S. Patton did it in order to take Messina Palermo (oh, those garbled messages…).

fire fighters in trainingAnd now it’s Emmett Middaugh’s turn. It took a year of phone calls, paperwork, and determination, but Emmett Middaugh and the Forest Grove (Oregon) Fire and Rescue created the first on-the-job (OJT) training program in Oregon for students interested in firefighting that allow them to collect VA educational and training benefits.

Emmett Middaugh is studying full time for two associate degrees, fire protection and EMT-paramedics, while also volunteering for a 24-hour shift every three days at Forest Grove Fire and Rescue. That doesn’t leave much time for paying employment. By developing an approved program with the VA, student/volunteer fire fighters are eligible for not just benefits during school terms; if they continue volunteering (now an OJT program), veterans may be eligible for additional (non-school term) benefits through the VA.

Middaugh is the only person in the Oregon program so far. However, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry Brad Avakian is hoping to use this program as a template for other military-to-civil service transition programs in Oregon, as well as sharing these types of programs across the nation.

So what does that mean for you? It means the VA is willing to listen to ideas by veterans that can assist veterans. As the cliché goes, “the sky’s the limit.” Contact your local VA office as well as your school’s office of veterans’ services to see just how to proceed and who to speak with to make your program dreams a reality.

Three Signs that It’s Time to Go Back to School

Posted by Kelli McKinney

going back to schoolWhen faced with the things called “life decisions” – you know, those times when you feel like whatever you choose is going to have a big effect on you and everyone you care about – wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of signal that told you that you were on the right track? A universal “Do this!” signal – or “Don’t Do This!” warning would be such a huge time saver, wouldn’t it?

While this article can’t really help you with all life’s important decisions, it might give you something to think about as you consider going back to school and finishing your degree.

If any of the following scenarios apply to you, it very well could be time to dust off your military education benefits and start finding a degree program that’s right for you.


Scenario # 1: You’ve Already Lived a Dream

If you are one of those fortunate people for whom their passion became their work – for example, if you dreamed of being a soldier and joined the Army after high school – you may find yourself ready to set your next goal.

It’s an amazing, beautiful thing to be satisfied with your work. Alternatively, when you hit a plateau and find yourself wondering “is this it?” – Well, that’s the opposite of satisfying and amazing.

One hallmark sign of successful people is that they are continually learning, growing, and setting new goals for themselves. If you find yourself wondering what the next challenge will be, you might be ready to chart yourself a new course. Going back to school is a great place to get ideas and start fresh.


Scenario #2: You’re Getting Lots of Interviews, but No Job Offers

Although this could also be considered a sign of a lousy job market, which is a sad reality, it can also be a sign that you need to strengthen your qualifications. No matter how much experience you gained, even in the military, there are some employers who only give serious consideration to candidates with a degree.

There’s no better way to increase your odds in a dicey job market than investing in your education and training. Being the strongest job candidate you can possibly be means finishing that degree – or starting a new one –so that you put your best foot forward.

Military service members, military spouses and their families can benefit even greater from perks like tuition assistance, the GI Bill, and earned credit transfers that will make your tuition dollars work harder.


Scenario #3: You’ve Been Passed Over for Promotion

There’s nothing more frustrating than putting in the hours and earning positive performance reviews but still being passed over for a promotion because your education level wasn’t where the boss thinks it should be. This can be aggravating for military spouses as well as transitioned service members.

This is also a huge red flag if you know that reductions in workforce are looming ahead. When layoffs lurk, those without a college degree are more vulnerable to the RIF than degree holders.

Fortunately, with online education programs, you can keep your day job while earning your degree. With unemployment hovering around those double-digits, increasing your odds at job security is worth the extra time it might take to earn that degree.


Sure, it would be great if life decisions came with a handy dandy checklist or – better yet – instruction manual and crystal ball, but they don’t. Trust yourself to know what’s best for you and your family, do your homework, and know that investing in yourself is never a waste.

If you are looking for a great place to start your search for a degree program, check out School Finder tool. You can search based on a number of military-friendly attributes through a database of more than 4,000 schools, and find information about degree and certification programs.

GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act Would Level-Set Tuition Rates for Vets

Posted by Kelli McKinney

GI Bill Tuition Fairness ActOur men and women in the U.S. military don’t just serve a select number of states. They protect all citizens, right? Sometimes that duty requires them to move from state to state or overseas, but we all benefit from their work. So if they meet college admission requirements, and they want to further their education, why would we ask them to pay out-of-state tuition and fees?

That’s the thinking behind Chairman Jeff Miller (FL) and Ranking Member Mike Michaud (ME) of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ newly- introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R. 357). H.R.357 would require state-operated schools to give veterans in-state tuition rates even though they may not be residents of the states where the schools are located. This would apply to state schools with GI Bill-eligible programs.

So far, says the House VA Committee’s press release, the legislation has been met with praise by the Student Veterans of America and VFW.

This could go a long way toward making college more affordable for student veterans. What do you think? Is this a welcome piece of legislation? Tell us your opinion in the comments below.

How to Tell if a School is Right for You

Posted by Kelli McKinney

How to choose the right schoolYou’d think that once you’d decided to pursue secondary education, the rest of the decisions would be a little easier to make. But alas, there are still a slew of choices to make – from selecting what type of school (distance education or brick–and-mortar?) to which field of study and whether a part-time or a full-time schedule will meet your needs as a service member or military spouse.

There are a ton of schools out there to choose from – some with easily recognizable names; others, not so much. Finding the right school takes time and consideration, like eating a hot air balloon. So let’s break this hot air balloon down into bite-size chunks before we eat it, shall we? Here’s an easily digestible set of tips to help you find the kind of school that meets your needs.

Speaking of needs, this whole search is about one person and one person alone: you. So with y-o-u is where we begin. 

What do you want?

The first step in this process, believe it or not, is to take stock in your goals, strengths, opportunities, likes, dislikes, social needs and financial needs. You need to have a finely-tuned awareness of what you’re trying to achieve and what resources you have or need to achieve it.  

Make your own checklist.

By no means am I suggesting that the tips outlined here aren’t valid or worthwhile. But make sure that your individual priorities and goals are reflected. The tips here are generalized and work for most people – but as we discussed already, you are not most people. Use these tips and add your own success measurements as needed.

Consider the Culture.

Whether online or on-campus, there is always an underlying current belonging to a school.  In some schools, for example, the underlying current has to do with prize-winning research; others may flow strictly around football championships; still others are devoted to volunteerism. 

A big part of the collegiate experience is exposure to ideas and expression that is different from your own; but an equally big part of the experience is finding a group of people who are somewhat like-minded to build supportive relationships. The learning community you cobble together over time is incredibly important.

The best way to get a sense for what the collegiate culture is about is to spend time with it.  Many people prefer the virtual community because it works best with their military service and family obligations. Get to know the online campus culture by visiting social media, contacting prospective student services and reaching out to current students, alumni, professors and teaching assistants. For brick and mortar schools, spend some time on campus and talk to people. Regardless of what kind of school you are interested in, it’s always good to ask current students, former students, professors, teaching assistants about the school’s priorities and culture. 

Consider the school’s success rate.

If you’re bringing transferred credits or military experience to the table, or if you’ve got a unique family or academic background (and everybody does), it’s worth a conversation with an academic advisor or prospective student representative to find out a few key nuggets of information. These pieces of information can help you determine if a school is a worthwhile investment of your time and money:

  • Graduation rates
  • Job placement rates
  • Dropout rates/retention rates
  • Student support services
  • Veterans support services
  • Student transfer (in and out) rates
  • Credit acceptance for open online courses, military experience, or other academic experience

Consider the school’s academic standards.

There are, unfortunately, schools that are more invested in developing their brand name than they are in educating students. Ask about the number of full-time faculty, the amount of reading and writing required to complete courses, the grade point average of graduating classes, and the accreditation of the school overall.

These are just a few tips and considerations to help you weigh your school choices. As always, there are plenty more questions that can be asked. But these questions can help you get past the smoke and mirrors and into the critical conversations with prospective programs. After all, it’s your future success on the line here. Isn’t it worth taking the time to make sure you receive the best possible education experience for your investment?


One good place to find schools that understand and work with military students (and families of military) is with the Military Authority School Finder. Answer a few questions and you’ll be matched with schools that can help you meet your education goals.