College Classes: Online, Campus, or Hybrid?

Updated: July 3, 2020

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    Which option should veterans, dependents, and currently serving military members choose when trying to decide whether to attend higher education classes online, in person, or both?

    Choosing a College: Online, Campus, or Hybrid There are issues that can affect which choice you make and not all of them have to do with whether or not your GI Bill will cover the expense of school depending on your choices. Which college attendance is best? That depends a great deal on your needs and goals.

    College Attendance Choices

    Attending class online or in person means taking stock of three basic areas–your ability to work better at home or in person, your ability to afford the classes you want to take, and whether or not your chosen financial aid will help you the way you need it to based on your choices.

    For example, are you a veteran who is no longer serving in uniform but ready to take advantage of your Post 9/11 GI Bill? Some don’t realize that attending classes 100% online means you do get a housing allowance, but it is a reduced one.

    Even taking one single course per semester or term in person can dramatically change how much housing allowance you are entitled to under the Post 9/11 GI Bill (depending on variables such as the housing stipend paid for your location and other issues).

    As you can see, in this instance, choosing to attend online may be harder to do if you are looking at certain benefits and how they are paid to those who do all-online learning as opposed to a mix of distance ed and in-person classes.

    Some Education Benefits May Make More Sense For All Online Learning

    And it only gets more complicated for some students from there–what about those who wish to attend classes using the Montgomery GI Bill instead of the Post 9/11 option?

    No Housing Stipend For MGIB-AD…BUT….

    For these students an all-online program makes more sense–there is no housing stipend paid for the MGIB-AD GI Bill (which is how the active duty Montgomery GI Bill is referred to in print at the Department of Veterans Affairs).

    The MGIB-AD version pays up to a maximum monthly amount (direct to the student) depending on full or part-time attendance. The student is not penalized financially for attending online classes only and when the per-hour cost of the class does not exceed a certain amount (depending on several variables) the MGIB-AD benefit can actually make more sense for some. Anyone who wants to attend a state-supported school 100% online would likely get a lot of mileage out of MGIB-AD.

    Remember, MGIB-AD does not offer an equivalent to the Yellow Ribbon program offered to those with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which means if you were thinking of attending a private college online or in person, you would need to get additional financial aid to offset the amount of tuition the MGIB-AD will not cover.


    Post 9/11 GI Bill Concerns

    Attending all your classes in person under the Post 9/11 GI Bill (and it’s modifications found in the Forever GI Bill legislation that has been happening over several years) is not as difficult a decision depending on circumstances.

    For example, when you learn that attending in person and online (instead of choosing one or the other exclusively) gives learners more benefit money in the form of the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowance than for online-only attendance.

    Those attending remotely alone under the Post 9/11 GI Bill get about half the housing allowance provided for those who attend in-person. For some, this requires a rethink of attending digital-only.

    Yellow Ribbon Options

    For others, the choice of the school may be more important than the expense of the education itself.

    Some students don’t want to attend state-supported colleges, choosing other options (private universities, vocational training, boot camps, or coding camps) instead. Many of those options can include online coursework.

    And that is where the Yellow Ribbon program comes in handy–Yellow Ribbon participating schools make it possible for Post 9/11 GI Bill students to attend private institutions and non-college programs approved by the VA even when the amount of the VA benefit doesn’t fully cover tuition and other costs.

    If your goal is to attend a specific school or join a specific program regardless of the cost or distances involved it can be to your advantage to choose an online-only program as long as you understand your housing stipend will not be the full amount offered to those who attend in person as well as via distance learning.

    It’s true that we mention that housing allowance a great deal in this article, but the benefit is an important one and it’s easy to assume that ALL GI Bill programs feature one. MGIB-AD and MGIB-SR do not. The Post 9/11 GI Bill does, before and after being modified by the legislation known as the Forever GI Bill.


    Non-Financial Concerns For Online, Campus, or Hybrid Learning

    One of the biggest stumbling blocks for students trying to navigate the higher education system? Not knowing if they are cut out for the discipline required for online classwork.

    Some students function very well as online learners; they are proactive about meeting homework deadlines, they make the online learning experience part of their overall lifestyle, and they put schoolwork at the top of their priorities list.

    But other students don’t have (and must learn to adapt or change their education plan) the experience to know whether or not they are cut out for computer-based learning. Some students do better with the rigor of in-person attendance.

    Some People Are More Social Than Others

    Others have no problem completing the coursework at home and alone, but prefer the social interaction of on-campus learning. There really are no hard-and-fast rules to go by when choosing the structure of your college career in this way except to respect the requirements of the school, and learn your own limitations as a remote learner.

    And let’s not forget that some subjects lend themselves to online learning better than others. Are you someone who excels at math but struggles with art? An online art course can be a real challenge for those who need in-person, direct feedback on projects, homework, and skill progression.

    Subject Matter Counts

    Some people do very well with more academic online learning topics such as history or American government; the moment some students get into a more abstract learning environment the harder it is for them to grasp more technically detailed concepts such as chemistry lab work, mid-to-advanced level math, or even topics with a high degree of nuance such as Psychology and Law Enforcement.

    There is no magic formula for determining whether or not you are right for one type of learning or another except trial and error.

    It’s best to take a low-impact elective for your first rounds of online education–see how you feel about taking a literature, history, or overview class (101-type learning) as an online learner before committing to an entire term’s worth of education you may or may not get something out of based on the type of classwork.


    10 Tips For Structuring Your Online Or On-Campus Program

    1. Review the school’s options under the VA GI Bill program you qualify for or want to use.
    2. Compare benefit options if you have a choice of which GI Bill to use. It’s best to get the help of a Veteran Service Organization or call the VA directly to get advice on making the most of your benefits depending on the college path you want.
    3. Review your school’s in-person options and compare them to online-only options. Some colleges may offer online courses that are in high demand and are not repeated a second time in a given school year. You’ll need to know if there are any special scheduling considerations before you commit.
    4. Submit a FAFSA form and explore any additional options for financial aid with or without your GI Bill or other benefits.
    5. Ask your school’s admissions office about alternative funding options, grants, veteran-specific programs that may supplement and enhance your GI Bill, etc.
    6. Try to enroll in a single, low-intensity online class in your first semester and see if you feel cut out for this type of learning before you commit to multiple online classes.
    7. Consider the cost of in-person commuting versus telecommuting to school and let that information inform your choices above and beyond housing stipend concerns, etc.
    8. Remember that GI Bill housing stipends are paid based on the zip code where you attend most of your in-person classes.
    9. Some state veteran-friendly education benefits include options for tuition and fees–GI Bill funds may not be your only option for military education financial aid. Depending on the state program and how you use it, you may find you are able to get far more college degree mileage (including graduate programs) you can get online and in person.
    10. When choosing to attend online or in person, weigh the full cost of attendance in each way including meals while on campus, transportation costs, issues with job schedules, etc.

    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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    Written by MilitaryBenefits