Through programs offered by Department of Defense (DoD), the United States Coast Guard, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), service members can enroll in and complete courses leading to high school diplomas, undergraduate, and graduate degrees at little or no cost to the student.
What is the Voluntary Education Program?
The Voluntary Education Program offers eligible service members opportunities to further their education through a variety of programs and services provided by the individual branches of Service. These resources assist service members in planning, completing, and paying for their education from basic academic competencies up to masters degrees. Due to the mobile lifestyle of service members, credit for courses can be earned several different ways, including traditional classroom setting, college-level equivalency testing, an assessment of prior learning, an assessment of military training, independent study, and distance learning.
What types of programs are available through the Voluntary Education Program?
The DoD offers the following programs and services to assist service members in achieving their education goals:
- Academic skills programs. These programs offer service members opportunities to update or enhance basic academic competencies such as reading, writing and math.
- High school diploma. This program provides full reimbursement for the cost of studies and testing leading to a high school diploma or a high school equivalency credential.
- Examinations program. This program allows service members to earn credentials, licenses, college credits, and high school diplomas, as well as satisfy entrance and employment requirements with successful completion of tests.
- Military evaluations program. This program recommends academic credit for Service school courses, military training, and most enlisted occupations that are recognized by many colleges and universities.
- Independent study. These programs allow for academic advancement through flexible scheduling or nontraditional approaches to study to earn college credit through distance learning with regionally accredited institutions.
- Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC). SOC is a network of colleges and universities that support the education needs of the mobile military. SOC has designated individual degree networks: SOCAD (Army), SOCNAV (Navy), SOCMAR (Marine Corps), and SOCCOAST (Coast Guard).
- Postsecondary degree programs. These programs enable service members to earn college credit towards a certificate or degree at the associates, bachelors, or masters level.
- Military Tuition Assistance (TA) Program. The TA Program is standardized across the Services and authorizes service members to receive up to a specified amount of TA per fiscal year for voluntary off-duty college courses and degree programs. TA is not a loan that needs to be repaid, but rather a benefit earned for serving in the military.
- Transcript services. These programs track and document a service member's military coursework and training, so it can be sent to accredited universities and colleges for consideration of college credit awarded for military experiences.
- Navy College Programs for Afloat College Education (NC PACE). The NC PACE program offers Sailors at sea the opportunity to continue their college studies. PACE is free for the Sailor and uses civilian instructors aboard the ship to teach college classes.
Additionally, the VA offers other education programs to veterans, including:
- Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 GI Bill®). This program is a new educational benefit for individuals who served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001 and is payable for training pursued on or after August 1, 2009. Benefits are based on a percentage of active duty service and could include the cost of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, a stipend for books and supplies, college ("kicker") payments, a rural benefit payment, and a Yellow Ribbon benefit. The Service Secretaries may permit an eligible service member to transfer all or a portion of the educational entitlement to one or more family members.
- Montgomery GI Bill® - Active Duty (MGIB). The MGIB provides up to thirty-six months of education benefits for college, business, technical, correspondence or vocational courses, apprenticeship/on-the-job training, or flight school for service members who have served on active duty and are now no longer with the military.
- MGIB - Selected Reserve (SR). The MGIB-SR provides similar benefits as the MGIB, but is targeted towards members of the Selected Reserve (Army Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, and the Army National Guard and Air National Guard).
- Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP). REAP provides financial assistance for education to members of the Reserve Components called or ordered to active duty in response to a war or national emergency. Reserve Component service members who were called to active duty can receive up to thirty-six months of assistance, payable based on a percentage of the MGIB three-year rates, and on the number of continuous days served on active duty.
- Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP). The VEAP is available if service members entered active duty between 1 January 1977 and 30 June 1985 and elected to make contributions from their military pay to participate in the program. The government matches contributions to the account at a rate of $2 for every $1 and this money can then be used for degree, certificate, correspondence, apprenticeship/on-the-job training, and vocational flight training programs.
Where can I receive more information on voluntary education programs and services?
Voluntary education programs are administered by each individual branch of Service within the DoD, the Coast Guard, and through the VA. Installation education centers and Service online education portals can provide service members with more information on any of the voluntary education programs. The VA education benefits website can also assist service members in obtaining information about VA-administered programs.
- Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES). DANTES provides programs and services in certification, counselor support, distance learning, and examinations. More information is available on the DANTES website.
- VA Education Programs. The VA offers education programs for veterans of military service, as well as education benefits to surviving family members. More information is available on the VA Education Benefits website.
- Army Continuing Education System (ACES). The ACES website provides information on education programs and services offered to Soldiers and their families. More information is available on the ACES website.
- Marine Corps Lifelong Learning. The Marine Corp's Voluntary Education Program provides service members the opportunity to reach their education goals. They can complete their high school education, earn an equivalency diploma, improve their academic skills or level of literacy, and enroll in vocational and technical schools. They can also receive recommended college credit for military training and experience based on the American Council on Education Guide to the Evaluation of Non-Traditional Learning Experiences in the armed forces, take tests to earn recommended college credits, complete an apprenticeship in a trade and enroll in postsecondary education programs that lead to associate, bachelor's, master's and post graduate degrees.
- Navy College Program (NCP). The NCP provides opportunities for Sailors to earn college degrees by providing academic credit for Navy training, work experience, and off-duty education. More information is available on the NCP website.
- Air Force Virtual Education Center (AFVEC). The AFVEC provides information on Airmen's education benefits and provides a one-stop-shop for all higher education needs. More information is available on the AFVEC website (requires log-in).
- United States Coast Guard (USCG) Institute. The USCG Institute provides links to education opportunities and services, financial aid information, and required forms for Coast Guard members. More information is available on the USCG Institute website.