Army Education BenefitsUpdated: December 23, 2022
As an all-volunteer force, the United States Army provides tremendous incentives to encourage joining. And, some of the most comprehensive benefit programs involve education. As such, we’ll use this article to outline these outstanding Army education benefits.
Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:
- An Overview of Army Education Benefits
- VA Education Programs Open to the Army
- Army Voluntary Education Programs
- Bachelor’s Degree Commissioning Programs
- US Army Command and General Staff College
- Final Thoughts
An Overview of Army Education Benefits
While the Army offers a tremendous wealth of education benefits, different programs will apply to different people – and their unique situations. For example, a high schooler who wants to enlist will likely look for opportunities to earn a bachelor’s degree or learn a trade. On the other hand, a college graduate considering an officer commission will likely be more interested in opportunities for a master’s degree.
As a result, we’ve outlined the education benefits below in three broad categories. First, we’ll talk about benefits provided by the Department of Veterans affairs that all soldiers may use. Next, we’ll cover different education benefits soldiers can take advantage of during their free time while serving. Finally, we’ll provide an overview of the education benefits relating to Army officer careers.
VA Education Programs Open to the Army
As mentioned above, eligible soldiers can receive education benefits through the VA. While these are not Army education benefits, per se, the fact that soldiers can – and do – use them mean they’re worth explaining here.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
This VA education benefit constitutes the gold standard of post-service education benefits. While soldiers can use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits during service, most use them following separation from the military.
While full eligibility percentages typically require three years of active duty service, you may be eligible for a reduced benefit percentage if you’ve served on active duty for at least 90 days after Sept. 10th, 2001.
Assuming 100% eligibility, soldiers can receive 36 months of the following benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill:
- Tuition and fees (paid up to the in-state, public school maximum)
- Monthly housing allowance
- Book stipend up to $1,000 per year
Yellow Ribbon Program
The Yellow Ribbon program serves as a bridge financing mechanism for soldiers using their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to attend a more expensive, private university. For these schools, the standard GI Bill payments do not cover the full tuition. To fix this gap, the VA created the Yellow Ribbon program.
Schools with tuitions greater than the GI Bill maximum can enroll as Yellow Ribbon participants. Army veterans with 100% GI Bill eligibility can apply for a Yellow Ribbon slot at these schools. And, as Yellow Ribbon participants, the schools offer to pay a set amount, above and beyond the GI Bill contribution, and the VA matches this contribution, meaning soldiers need to pay less – or nothing – out of pocket to attend these schools.
Army Voluntary Education Programs
Next, the Army offers voluntary education programs. These benefits include the options available to soldiers to pursue education in their free time. In other words, the benefits in this category must be completed concurrent with primary military assignments.
Prior to using most of these programs, soldiers should conduct an education counseling via GoArmyEd, the organization that assists soldiers in researching educational options, registering for classes, and monitoring progress towards educational goals. The GoArmyEd counselors will work with you to develop a concrete academic plan, helping to ensure that all college credits earned via these programs work towards a degree.
Joint Service Transcript (JST)
This military standardized template assesses your prior military education and training, and it outlines how that experience can translate into college credits. For soldiers beginning their degree paths, reviewing your Joint Service Transcript (JST) allows you to – potentially – identify classes for which you can receive credits without actually completing.
CLEP and DANTES Testing
The CLEP and DANTES tests, which the Army will pay for, allow soldiers to take an exam in lieu of a college course. In other words, if you know or are willing to study for a particular subject (e.g. college algebra, statistics, world history, etc.), you can take these exams. If you pass, you can then apply the passing grade as a credit towards your degree. This has the benefits of A) speeding up your degree journey, and B) letting your other education benefits go even further.
Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
Each branch of service offers its own version of TAP. The Army’s tuition assistance program allows eligible soldiers to use the program to pursue college degrees in their free time. Specifically, after completing the requisite administrative requirements for the program, the Army will pay a certain amount of tuition every year. As stated above, this program is administered via GoArmyEd.
For motivated soldiers, combining JST credits, CLEP and DANTES testing, and college classes via TAP can absolutely result in a college degree over the course of an enlistment. While this can be challenging in certain fields and with multiple deployments, it’s not uncommon for a soldier to enlist with no college experience, use these benefits, and complete his or her service with a bachelor’s degree.
Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL)
This program helps soldiers find information on civilian licenses and certifications related to their military occupational specialties. More precisely, COOL explains the steps soldiers need to take to convert their military training into civilian licenses and certifications. As such, it’s not necessarily an education benefit, but it leads to the same outcome, that is, a formal license or certification that can help a soldier succeed following military service.
Bachelor’s Degree Commissioning Programs
The education benefits in this section pertain to two categories of people: 1) civilians seeking to commission as Army officers, and 2) enlisted soldiers seeking a college degree and commission to become an officer.
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)
Qualified high school students apply for a scholarship and, if accepted, spend four years at university training in its ROTC program. From an education perspective, this scholarship means that ROTC students attend university for free. However, by accepting this benefit, these students commit to a minimum of four years of service following graduation. Upon completion of their ROTC program and bachelor’s degree, students commission as Army officers.
Army Green to Gold Commissioning Program
The Army Green to Gold program provides outstanding enlisted soldiers the opportunity to commission as Army officers. After completing a rigorous application and selection process, qualified soldiers get to complete a bachelor’s degree or two-year master’s degree. Upon successfully completing their degrees and OCS, these soldiers commission as officers.
Army Medical Department Enlisted Commissioning Program (AECP)
This education benefit provides eligible soldiers the opportunity to complete a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and commission as an officer in the active component of the Army Nurse Corps.
United States Military Academy (USMA)
USMA serves as the official service academy for commissioning Army officers. Similar to ROTC, students who are accepted and receive an appointment to USMA spend four years at the institution, completing both military training and their bachelor’s degrees. Upon graduation, they commission into the Army. However, USMA mandates five – not four – years of mandatory service following graduation in return for this education.
Additionally, the Army reserves a certain number of slots available to prior-enlisted soldiers for every USMA class. This provides another education and commissioning route to enlisted soldiers.
US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC)
This final education benefit provides eligible mid-career Army officers and senior enlisted soldiers the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree at the US Army Command and General Staff College, an institution accredited to provide master’s degrees.
Specifically, the Army’s CGSC grants successful graduates a Master of Military Art and Science degree in a variety of fields. To complete their degree, graduates must complete the school’s Intermediate Level Education course, an oral exam, and a 50- to 125-page thesis based on original research.
A variety of routes within the Army exist to secure spots at CGSC.
Depending on your unique situation and goals, the Army likely has an education benefit program for you. However, as with everything in the Army, you will not be given anything. All of these benefits still require a tremendous amount of work to succeed. But, if you possess this drive to further your education, the Army has plenty of options to help you on your journey.
Maurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.