Current members of the U.S. Armed Forces face unique challenges and circumstances. Not only have they been tasked with the great responsibility of protecting our country, they must also provide for their own financial well-being and that of their families. Here we discuss the Higher Education Opportunity Act and Post-9/11 GI Bill available to help servicemembers pay for college costs that may not be available to civilians.
Higher Education Opportunity Act
The Higher Education Opportunity Act (the Act) was signed into law on August 14, 2008. The Act reauthorizes the Higher Education Act of 1965 for another six years, and includes many other provisions designed to improve college affordability, access, and accountability. Provisions of the Act are effective August 14, 2008, unless otherwise noted. Highlights of the Act are discussed below.
Expanded federal Pell Grant, work study, grace period for GradPLUS loans, and scholarship program
The Act expands several federal financial aid programs. First, the Act increases the maximum Pell Grant from $5,800 to $9,000 per academic year by 2014, and for the first time, makes Pell Grants available year-round, not just for the fall and spring semesters.
Reduced textbook costs
To address the rising cost of textbooks, the Act requires textbook publishers effective July 1, 2010, to disclose the retail cost of textbooks and supplemental materials before selling them to school officials. This provision is intended to make it easier for faculty, students, and parents to decide whether a particular textbook is worth the cost. The Act also discourages the practice of “bundling,” in which publishers package books with often expensive supplementary materials like workbooks, DVDs, or CDs. Publishers will be required to sell unbundled versions of every bundled textbook they sell, allowing students to purchase only the exact items they need.
Increased aid for military families
The Act creates a new scholarship program for active duty military personnel and their family members, including spouses and children of active duty military servicemembers or veterans. The Act also allows the child of a member of the Armed Forces who died in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, to receive the maximum Pell Grant. The Act also establishes support centers to help veterans succeed in college and graduate school, and ensures fairness in student aid and housing to make it possible for veterans to attend college while also fulfilling their military service duties.
Expanded loan forgiveness
The Act authorizes up to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness for employees serving the public interest, including but not limited to public school teachers, nurses, public defenders, prosecutors, firefighters, military servicemembers, first responders, and law enforcement officers.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
Education benefits are one of the most valuable benefits available to servicemembers. If you’re entitled to benefits, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay up to the full cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges for up to four years, or up to a certain maximum per academic year if you attend a private college or foreign school. The maximum for the 2014 academic year (August 1, 2014 through July 31, 2015) is $20,235.02. But if you don’t need to use your entitlement, the Post-9/11 GI Bill can provide a great way to pay for your family’s education. Servicemembers who make a long-term service commitment have the opportunity to transfer unused education benefits (up to 36 months’ worth) to their spouses and children. To transfer your unused benefit entitlement to your spouse, you must have served at least 6 years, and generally commit to serving 4 additional years from the date a benefit transfer is approved (some exceptions to this added service requirement exist). Once the transfer is approved, your spouse may begin using benefits immediately and has 15 years after your last separation from active duty to use up the benefits.
If you opt to transfer your unused entitlement to your dependent children, they can use the benefits only after you’ve completed at least 10 years of service. In addition, they must have attained a secondary school diploma or equivalency certificate or have reached age 18, and they can use the benefit entitlement only until age 26. If both your spouse and your children are attending school, you can opt to split your benefit entitlement among them. To learn more about GI Bill benefits for you and your
family members, visit www.benefits.va.gov.
For more information on how AFBN can help you, contact your nearest service center location.