Coast Guard Education BenefitsUpdated: December 24, 2022
The United States Coast Guard consists of a dedicated crew of volunteers. No draft exists. Instead, the service provides a variety of incentives to join – including education benefits. As such, we’ll use this article to outline the primary Coast Guard education benefits available to servicemembers.
Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:
- An Overview of Coast Guard Education Benefits
- VA Education Programs Open to the Coast Guard
- Coast Guard Voluntary Education Programs
- Bachelor’s Degree Commissioning Programs
- Coast Guard Graduate Programs
- Final Thoughts
An Overview of Coast Guard Education Benefits
The Coast Guard lives by the motto Semper Paratus – “Always Prepared.” And, it embraces that philosophy in education as well as operational readiness. The service provides its members a significant number of opportunities to advance their education. However, not every educational benefit will apply to every Coast Guardsman. For instance, high schoolers looking to enlist into the service may want to pursue a bachelor’s degree or certificate program. On the other hand, current Coast Guard officers may seek graduate degrees as promotion requirements.
Due to this diversity in educational goals, we’ve broken our discussion of Coast Guard education benefits into three broad categories. First, we’ll outline the VA education benefits that all Coast Guardsmen can use. Second, we’ll cover the voluntary education opportunities troops can take advantage of in their free time. Lastly, we’ll review the different programs tailored to careers as a Coast Guard officer.
VA Education Programs Open to the Coast Guard
As mentioned above, eligible Guardsmen can receive education benefits through the VA. While these are not Coast Guard education benefits, per se, the fact that troops can – and do – use them means they’re worth explaining here.
This VA education benefit constitutes the gold standard of post-service education benefits. While Guardsmen can use their GI Bill benefits during service, most use them following separation from the military.
Though 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, Guardsmen 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
This program serves as a bridge financing mechanism for Guardsmen 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 tuition greater than the GI Bill maximum can enroll as Yellow Ribbon participants. Coast Guard 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. The VA then matches this contribution, meaning Guardsmen need to pay less – or nothing – out of pocket to attend these schools.
Coast Guard Voluntary Education Programs
Next, the Coast Guard offers voluntary education programs. These benefits include the options available to Guardsmen 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 these programs, Guardsmen should conduct an education counseling with their unit’s Education Services Officer (ESO). These counselors will help develop a concrete academic plan, ensuring that all college credits earned via these programs work towards a degree.
This military standardized template assesses your prior military education and training, and it outlines how that experience can translate into college credits. For Guardsmen beginning their degree paths, reviewing your JST allows you to – potentially – identify classes for which you can receive credits without actually completing.
These two types of tests, which the Coast Guard will pay for, allow troops 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.
Each branch of service offers its own version of TA, and the Coast Guard allows eligible troops to use the program to pursue college degrees in their free time. Specifically, after completing the requisite administrative requirements for the program, the Coast Guard will pay a certain amount of tuition every year.
For motivated Guardsmen, combining your JST, CLEP and DANTES testing, and college classes via TA 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 Guardsman to enlist with no college experience, use these benefits, and complete his or her service with a bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor’s Degree Commissioning Programs
The education benefits in this section pertain to two categories of people: 1) civilians seeking to commission as Coast Guard officers, and 2) enlisted Guardsmen seeking a college degree and commission to become an officer.
USCGA serves as the official service academy for commissioning Coast Guard officers. Students who are accepted and receive an appointment to USCGA spend four years at the institution, completing both military training and their bachelor’s degrees. Upon graduation, they commission into the Coast Guard. In return for their degrees, USCGA graduates are required to serve a minimum of five years as active-duty officers.
Additionally, USCGA encourages highly-qualified enlisted Guardsmen to apply. If accepted, these troops spend the same time period at the school and graduate as officers. And, USCGA recognizes that many enlisted troops have been out of the formal classroom for an extended period. As such, the school also offers a one-year preparatory program, known as the Coast Guard Academy Scholars Program, during which these troops attend a Coast Guard-funded prep school to academically prepare for USCGA.
Unlike the other services, the Coast Guard does not have an ROTC route to commissioning. Instead, the service offers CSPI to second- and third-year college students. This program provides Coast Guard-specific training while also paying for two years of college. Upon college graduation, CSPI members receive a guaranteed slot at the Coast Guard’s officer candidate school.
Pre-Commissioning Program for Enlisted Personnel (PPEP)
This program provides a route for enlisted Guardsmen to commission as officers. If accepted into PPEP, the Coast Guard funds one to two years of full-time college. After graduating, PPEP members attend officer candidate school. Upon completing this training, troops commission as Coast Guard officers.
Coast Guard Graduate Programs
Many Coast Guard officers and senior enlisted troops decide to pursue graduate school programs. A master’s degree can either be a promotion requirement, or servicemembers may complete one voluntarily. Voluntary attendance typically requires using your own GI Bill benefits.
The Coast Guard also provides a competitive application process to attend graduate school full-time as an active-duty assignment. Qualified officers and select enlisted troops may apply for the Coast Guard’s Postgraduate and Advanced Education (PG / Adv Ed) program. Once accepted, these individuals complete their master’s degrees as their primary duty. As such, they receive full pay while attending school for free. In return for this education, troops typically owe additional service time in the Coast Guard.
Depending on your unique situation and goals, the Coast Guard likely has an education benefit program for you. However, as with everything in the Coast Guard, 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 Coast Guard 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.