Can I Use Benefits From the GI Bill® to Take Online Classes

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Colleges of Distinction »

Since 1944, the GI Bill has helped millions of our nation’s service-members earn a college degree. But with the advent of online learning, many veterans wonder if their GI Bill benefits will still cover the costs. 

Can my funds be used toward online courses?

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The short answer to this question is yes. The long answer is still yes, but benefits and amounts paid differ with each GI Bill. There are different chapters of the GI Bill, all of which have their own unique requirements and benefits. Some people qualify for more than one chapter, but you must decide which benefit you will use to pay for education expenses. This decision cannot be reversed or modified, so take the time to research which chapter might be best for you. The good news is that all of them allow for distance learning funding. Here are the different GI Bill chapters and the different benefits they offer: 

Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD): The MGIB-AD can help pay for education and training programs for up to 36 months. Students receive a flat rate that is adjusted annually. These tax-free benefits can be used for tuition and fees for college, flight training, vocational school, online education, and more. 

Eligibility for MGIB-AD benefits is determined by whether an applicant satisfies the requirements of at least one of four categories. To determine what you are eligible for, visit the VA website or talk to the VA certifying official at your institution.

Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) program offers up to 36 months of education and training benefits. Members who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard Reserve, Army National Guard, or Air National Guard may be eligible to use this benefit for online classes. 

Post-9/11 GI Bill: The Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) helps you pay for school or job training for up to 36 months. Benefits can be used to pay for tuition and fees, housing, books, and supplies. Of course, there are a few stipulations. For example, the GI Bill will cover the full cost of public, in-state tuition and fees, but there are certain limits for private and foreign schools. Additionally, the monthly housing allowance is determined by the location and cost of living where your school is located. Benefits are also determined by the duration and classification of your service. If your head is spinning with all the fine print, we get it. Your best resource is the VA office and the VA certifying official, who acts as a liaison between the institution and the VA regarding education benefits. 

Eligibility for this chapter is contingent on the satisfaction of the following requirements: 

  • Served at least 90 days on active duty (either all at once or with breaks in service) on or after September 11, 2001, or
  • Received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged after any amount of service, or
  • Served for at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break in service) on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability, or 
  • Are a dependent child using benefits transferred by a qualifying Veteran or service member

Do these benefits extend toward my living expenses if I take online courses?

Yes, but again, it depends on which chapter you use and the institution. Some colleges are more accommodating than others and will offer in-state tuition to student veterans regardless of their location. This will help maximize your benefits, even with online courses. Check with your institution and the designated VA-Certifying Official. Some chapters even offer a housing allowance for online students. For example, the Post-9/11 chapter supplies a housing allowance of 50% of the national average. Rates change all the time, so be sure to check with the benefits section of the VA website regularly. 

When considering an online program, what technical requirements are often commonly required? Would that typically be covered under my online degree program?

With any college program, you’ll need the proper tools for success. In an online degree program, your most trusted tool will be a laptop and a stable internet connection. From there, some courses have specific textbooks and other learning materials. These can get costly, which is why the VA offers stipends to students. Under the Post-9/11 chapter, students can receive a yearly stipend of up to $1,000 to pay for books and supplies. Remember, there is a wealth of resources around the nation dedicated to helping student veterans succeed. A national nonprofit called the “Tech For Troops Project” provides refurbished electronics to student veterans. The office of Military Student Services at Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, recently received computers from the Tech For Troops Project to give to veteran students.

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What high-quality online programs are there? 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning had become a highly effective and well-respected alternative to traditional on-campus learning. Heralded for rigor and quality that rivals on campus programs, online courses are a great way for student veterans to balance work and class. Students who are searching for the perfect online program should consider a number of factors: 

  • Quality of institution: Beware of online diploma mills that make empty promises. Make sure the institution is accredited regionally and nationally.
  • Type and format of program: Not all online programs are created equal. Depending on your schedule and other obligations, you might benefit from a different format
    • Synchronous: Synchronous courses mean you’re learning in real time with your professors and classmates. You’ll likely be in a Zoom session or participate in a virtual discussion board. This format is closer to traditional on-campus learning and allows you to make connections with your professors and peers. This first does limit flexibility since assignments and classes are set by the professor. 
    • Asynchronous: Asynchronous means you’re essentially learning on your own time. You will complete assignments and exams at your own pace. There will be certain deadlines, and you might have to participate in a discussion board or two, but for the most part you can complete your work on your own schedule. 
  • Student services: Just because you are taking courses online, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access to traditional resources and services. Make sure your institution offers tutoring services, library and lab access, advising, and counseling to all of its online students. 

What should I look for in a school? 

Remember all that confusing fine print of the different GI Bills from earlier? Yeah, it’s complicated stuff. Applying for college is hard enough as it is without throwing in confusing requirements of the GI Bill. As you search for the school that is right for you, take the time to research what resources are at your disposal. At the very minimum, schools should have a strong relationship with their VA-Certifying Official. This individual is responsible for helping you make sense of your benefits and will make sure you receive everything you’re eligible for. Other factors to consider is whether there is a designated team of professionals for student veterans. While the amount of resources depends on the size of the school, you should make sure there is someone who understands your needs as a student veteran. At Moravian College, Director of Military and Veteran Affairs Marilyn Cavotta understands how important advocacy is for her student veterans. Cavotta understands how time sensitive education benefits are and ensures that her student veterans have priority access to registration so they can satisfy graduation requirements. 

As a student veteran, your goal should be to find a school where you not only feel welcomed by an institution, but feel completely valued, supported, and understood. That dedication to student success should be no different for students taking online courses. At California University of Pennsylvania, the Office of Military and Veterans affairs offers dedicated and individualized support to students studying on campus and online. Student veterans who choose one of Cal U’s online programs earn a top-quality degree that is convenient, flexible, and affordable. Student veterans can count on receiving the same support as on-campus students, as well as the multiple services specifically designed for the veteran population. Whether it’s maximizing education benefits or helping students find support on and off campus, Cal U’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs is dedicated to helping students navigate their entire Cal U experience.

What does the Military Support badge mean for a College of Distinction? 

Colleges of Distinction that have earned the additional Military Support recognition have demonstrated a keen understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities student veterans have on college campuses. Not only do these institutions recognize these obstacles and opportunities, they go above and beyond to address them through intentional programming and specialized support. Colleges of Distinction cares about what really matters to student veterans and we’ve sought the insight from experts. To learn more about what schools are doing for their students, check out our series of interviews with experts. This series features the knowledge, insight, and experiences of military and veteran affairs leaders in higher education. These individuals are paving the way for veterans in higher education through intentional programming, advocacy, and meaningful support. From Green Zone training to Military-focused initiatives to strategic partnerships, these campuses are creating spaces where military and veteran students can learn, grow, and succeed.