Being part of the military is taken with pride and honor as servicemen and women do their part to uphold peace and order. But this does not mean that one has to forego educational goals to serve the country. Many colleges and universities offer degrees that are military-friendly, tailored for veterans as well as those on active duty. Prospective military students can also choose from various types of college degrees.
According to a 2020 report from Military OneSource, a vast majority (66.9%) of active-duty members only have a high school diploma or some college education but without a bachelor’s degree (Military OneSource, 2020). This gap in education can be addressed while on active duty or when one achieves veteran status. In response, numerous institutions of higher education across the country furnished programs that are deemed military-friendly.
This article takes a closer look at the most affordable online colleges for military personnel and veterans. It details the costs and requirements of enrolling for a military-friendly degree. Moreover, the differences between on-ground and online military education are tackled.
The term “military-friendly” pertains to a standard to effectively serve the educational needs of the military community, whether it is personnel on active duty, reserves, veterans, or their immediate family (Military Friendly, 2021). With this, a military-friendly college offers the necessary service infrastructure to accommodate the special needs of the military community.
In the United States, the need for military-friendly colleges is underscored by the population of the military community. Veterans, who comprise the largest share of the military student populace, amount to an estimated 23.5 million, comprising around 9% of the national population (Humphrey, 2021). Meanwhile, the number of active personnel, as of early 2021, is over 1.4 million (Duffin, 2021) while the reserves, as of 2019, are 594,309 (US Department of Defense, 2020). The perpetually large number of potential students galvanized a lot of colleges to adjust their programs to suit the needs of military students and those with a previous military career.
While military students carry individual needs, there are factors that should be present for a school or program to be considered military-friendly.
Besides the primary requirements, learners would also benefit from a school that has a military student association or at least encourages them to start one. The community can help them adjust to the learning pace and other scholastic requirements.
Moreover, courses that apply an experiential approach, coupled with effective support services, can further stimulate the acclimation and learning of military students. In a study by Dudley-Miller & Radel (2020) published in the Journal of Veteran Studies, it was revealed that the “Patterns of behavior and expectations related to military culture and to being an adult learner emerged as characteristics of these SMB, and defined how these individuals integrate successfully in a healthcare campus setting.” The paper titled “Experiences and Challenges of Students with a Military Background at an Academic Medical Center” mentioned that “‘Experiential and inter-professional learning’ is the means to ‘offering positive supports for [students with military backgrounds].'”
Source: Humphrey, 2021; Duffin, 2021; US Department of Defense, 2020
Members of the military can avail of degrees that are administered fully online. This comes as an advantage especially for those who are on active duty since the rigors of military service can cause them to miss classes should schedules coincide. Taking online classes affords them control over their scholastic activities, balancing them with military exercises.
From associate degrees to bachelor’s degrees and beyond, military-friendly online colleges offer a wide range of degrees to prospective learners, which is useful for those who don’t want to necessarily study military science. This goes in line with the large number of military students who apply for education. According to a 2020 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, 6.1% of undergraduates and 6.7% of graduate students in the U.S. are from the military (Holian & Adam, 2020). While the latest figures were from 2015-2016, one can assume the growth of the student population and the number of military enrollees in recent years.
Some of the best online degrees for military students have a few major differences from their on-ground counterparts.
There are a lot of cheap military-friendly online colleges, and the most ideal options strike a balance of affordability and military-friendliness. As such, we have compiled a list of recommended online colleges and universities that offer programs and services designed to suit the needs of military students. They appear in no particular order, thus each institution mentioned is a worthwhile option.
Founded in 1885, Arizona State University is, in terms of enrollment, one of the biggest public universities in the United States. The public research university is classified as an R1 Doctoral University for its high research activity and is home to over 103,000 undergraduate students. It offers around 350-degree programs across a multitude of disciplines.
Columbia Southern University is a private university located in Orange Beach, Alabama. Founded in 1993, the institution primarily offers online education across a variety of subjects, including computer science, business administration, and criminal justice administration. It accommodates over 21,000 students.
Contrary to what its name suggests, the American Public University System is a private university known for accommodating military students. It offers degrees across seven major disciplines, which include business, education, arts and humanities, and health sciences. The school has over 46,000 students and an estimated 110,000 alumni worldwide.
The University of Florida is the fifth largest university with a single campus in the United States, attracting a total of 56,597 students, of whom 3,707 are online. The public research university offers undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs for military students. It is classified as an R1 Doctoral university for its large volume of research outputs.
New Mexico State University, founded in 1888, is the oldest public university in New Mexico and is home to over 21,000 learners. With more than 70 online programs, it offers degrees furnished by its seven colleges, which include business, education, engineering, and agricultural, consumer, and environmental sciences. The school allows military students to transfer credits and provides education benefits.
Western Governors University is a private university specializing in distance learning education. Known for supporting military students, the school employs competency-based learning, which focuses on strengthening predetermined competencies so that they would translate to real-world performance. It accommodates over 119,000 learners.
The University of Arkansas Grantham is an online university founded in 1951. Offering more than 50 degree and certificate options, the private university is composed of four colleges, centering on disciplines like business, humanities, engineering, and nursing. It is the educational abode of more than 9,300 students.
Established in 1819, Norwich University is the oldest military academy in the U.S. The private university grants learners financial aid and targets the specific needs of military students. It offers a range of online degrees from disciplines like cybersecurity, criminal justice, and business. Norwich University is home to around 21,000 undergraduates and 1,300 postgraduates.
Amridge University is a private university that has been offering distance learning education since 1993. Once a theological seminary, the school expanded its academic offerings, which are consolidated into five schools. Some of the disciplines covered are business, education, and theology. It maintains affordable tuition fees to support its learners.
Colorado State Global University is an online public university that was founded in 2007. It credits courses taken from previously attended institutions like schools, the military, and work. The degrees that students can take include information technology, accounting, and criminal justice. Colorado State Global University accommodates around 20,000 learners.
Situated in Lowell, Massachusetts, the University of Massachusetts Lowell is the second-biggest university in the state in terms of population. It is recognized as an R2 Doctoral University and furnishes 120 undergraduate and 78 graduate degrees. Learners can select from bachelor’s programs like psychology, business administration, economics, and criminal justice.
Florida International University is the biggest university in South Florida and the second-largest in the state. The public research university is classified as an R1 Doctoral University and has on offer over 190 academic programs. Students can choose from a wide array of online bachelor’s degrees, including computer science, information technology, and biology. The school has an office that provides dedicated support services to military students.
Liberty University is a private university that specializes in online education. Even though it has a physical campus, a majority of its learners are online, as it accommodates an estimated 95,000 students as of 2020. The university is divided into 17 colleges, from which degree options like business, behavioral sciences, journalism, and computer engineering are offered. It also offers special military pricing.
California State University, Northridge is one of the largest institutions in the California State University system in terms of enrollment size. The public university is the academic home of over 38,000 learners, offering a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs. It provides dedicated advisors to military students who are tasked to assist learners through admissions and transitioning to an educational setting.
The online campus of Pennsylvania State University, Penn State World Campus offers more than 175 online programs to aspiring undergraduate and graduate students. To serve its military students, the school has a dedicated team of advisors that help in admissions, benefits, and other forms of military support. The degrees offered include those for business, engineering, education, nursing, and homeland security.
Bellevue University is a private university that centers on adult and professional education. Its classes typically leverage video conferencing and video tutorials, as well as provide round-the-clock access to the school’s digital library. Accommodating over 10,300 students, the school offers online degrees in business, computer information systems, and communication studies, among many others.
Mississippi State University is a public research university known for its high research activity. Receiving one of the biggest budgets for research and development in its state, the school is divided into 12 schools of knowledge, from which more than 180 on-ground academic programs are offered. Military veterans can pursue the counseling and support services provided.
California State University, San Bernardino offers two online bachelor’s programs, five online master’s programs, and six hybrid undergraduate and graduate programs. The most popular ones include the bachelor’s programs in criminal justice and social sciences, as well as the master’s programs in business and public administration. Advisors are provided to military students in case they need help with admissions and benefits.
The University of Central Florida has one of the largest student bodies for public universities in the United States and is part of the State University System of Florida. Home to over 71,900 students, the public research university offers over 100 degrees from its 13 colleges and schools, including business administration, medicine, engineering, and computer science.
Appalachian State University is a public university that offers 12 online bachelor’s degrees and 17 master’s degrees, on top of the over 220 programs available on campus. Military students can choose from several programs, which include undergraduate options like management, supply chain management, and advertising. Support services that help military students navigate admissions and benefits are also provided.
One of the biggest universities in Virginia in terms of student enrollment, Old Dominion University welcomes over 24,000 students and has garnered R2 Doctoral University status. The public research university offers a large number of online bachelor’s programs to undergraduates, including sociology, psychology, marketing, and cybersecurity.
Located in Tampa, Florida, the University of South Florida is a public university recognized for its high research activity. It offers seven online undergraduate and 40 graduate programs, foremost of which are criminology, public administration, and environmental policy. Dedicated advisers and tutors are provided to military students as well as liaison officers who can help them navigate admissions.
Founded in 1865, the University of Kentucky has one of the highest enrollment rates in the state of Kentucky, welcoming more than 30,500 students in its halls. The institution is classified as an R1 Doctoral University and offers a variety of academic programs coming from its 16 colleges. The online degrees include business, social work, social sciences, and information communication technology.
Texas A&M International University offers 17 online undergraduate and nine graduate programs. Some of the most notable bachelor’s programs are criminal justice, business, and nursing. The public university has a department that provides support services to military students, often assisting in admissions and benefits.
Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Eastern Kentucky University offers comprehensive online education. Learners can choose from notable online programs like political science, paralegal science, and communication studies. The public university also has a Veterans Success Center, a department that helps military students acclimate to the educational setting.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is a private university that centers on aeronautical education but the degrees it offers are not limited to that. Besides aeronautics and aviation, aspirants can pick other worthwhile programs like engineering, supply chain management, and project management. Moreover, the coursework is flexible, allowing those on active duty to resume their classes after participating in military exercises.
Lousiana Tech University is classified as an R2 Doctoral University for the volume of its research outputs. The public university offers two undergraduate and four graduate programs for online students, foremost of which are undergraduate degrees in general studies and health informatics. It also has an academic center dedicated to helping military students.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is a public university that offers a multitude of degrees and certificates from its 12 academic divisions. Online undergraduates can choose from notable programs like accounting, criminal justice, marketing, management, and information systems. The institution has a program called UAB Salute and the Office of Veteran Recruitment and Student Services that provide holistic support to military students.
The University of Kansas is an R1 Doctoral University that welcomes over 27,000 students. Its online degrees are geared towards the healthcare and liberal arts, with the most notable programs being liberal arts and sciences, nursing, respiratory care, and health information management. It is among the most affordable online colleges for military personnel as it has also has a student center that provides dedicated support and counseling to military students.
The University of Colorado Denver has the biggest graduate schools of business and education in Colorado and accommodates an estimated 13,500 students. Offering 28 online undergraduate programs, the public university has a dedicated office for military support services, which provides comprehensive assistance for military students. Its most notable degree options include public service, sociology, international studies, and criminal justice.
Several programs are designed to ease the financial burden off of military students, especially veterans. These include the Post-9/11 Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program, Military Tuition Assistance, and other instruments available to non-military college students like the ones from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), among others. Let us go over the most relevant ones.
Veterans are entitled to a slew of financial benefits in accordance with the Post-9/11 Bill, provided that they were on active duty for 90 days (36 months for 100% benefits) after September 11, 2001, received a Purple Heart, or continuously served for 30 days without breaks (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, n.d.). The benefits include tuition and fees as well as allowances for housing, books and school supplies, and the transition from a rural city to an area near a school. Coverage of the bill lasts for up to 36 months, depending on the duration of a student’s active service in the military. It is also transferrable to the dependent children of those eligible for the benefits.
How much exactly will be reimbursed? For the academic year 2021 – 2022, the Post-9/11 Bill states that the tuition fees of a public institution will be fully reimbursed for in-state students (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, n.d.). Meanwhile, those enrolled in private institutions are slated to receive up to $26,042.81 per academic year. The coverage extends to apprenticeships, licensing and certification tests, the fees of vocational flight schools, and the like.
Veterans who were on active duty for less than 36 months will receive a smaller share of the benefits; with the rates dependent on how long one was active in the military. Those active between 30 and 36 months are eligible for 90% of the full benefits, 80% for 24 to 30 months, 70% for 18 to 24 months, 60% for six to 18 months, and 50% for 90 days to six months.
Source: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
A supplementary financial vehicle to the Post-9/11 Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program offers financial help in areas that receive limited or a lack of coverage from the said bill (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, n.d.). The benefits granted to military students enrolled in private or foreign institutions, for instance, may not be sufficient to cover much of the expenses, given that the tuition fees of prestigious private schools are often upwards of $26,042.81 per year. In this case, the Yellow Ribbon Program provides access to additional reimbursements to further cut down on one’s expenses.
Unlike the Post-9/11 Bill, the amount to be received is not predetermined; it is under the discretion of the school the military student is enrolled in. The number of students entered into the program is also limited per school, so applying for and submitting a certificate of eligibility early is highly advised. For one’s reference, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs actively maintains a list of schools that offer the Yellow Ribbon Program per year.
To qualify, a veteran must be eligible for 100% of the benefits of the Post-9/11 Bill. Those in active military service will be eligible starting August 1, 2022, for as long as they have been active for at least 36 months. The same goes for beneficiary spouses whose partners qualify for the program.
Parallel to the Post-9/11 Bill is the Military Tuition Assistance programs offered to eligible active members of the US Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and Space Force. Up to 100% of tuition fees can be reimbursed, not exceeding $250 per semester hour, $166 per quarter-hour, or $3,750-$4,500 per fiscal year (Absher, 2021). The benefits of each agency are nearly identical, with the only differences being the amount reimbursed per fiscal year and the classifications of eligible parties besides those on active duty.
Akin to the Yellow Ribbon Program is the Top-Up Program, which affords those eligible an extra sum to further reduce the financial burden coming from institutions with high tuition fees (Absher, 2021). The financial amount dispensed is equal to the sum yielded by the GI Bill for the same course and can never exceed what is required by the school.
The Montgomery GI Bill offers cash and support programs, valued at over $77,000, to help reduce the education costs of soldiers and veterans (Absher, 2021). The ceiling of the payouts is $2,150 per month over a 36-month period, which covers up to eight semesters. Besides tuition fees, the amount can be used to pay for licensing and certification tests, training in flight school, and apprenticeships.
The value of the payouts is determined by the number of classes a military student enrolls in. For full benefit, a student must accumulate at least 12 hours of courses per month, 3/4 benefit for 9-11 hours, 1/2 benefit for 6-8 hours, less than 1/2 benefit for 3-5 hours, and 1/4 benefit for 0-2 hours.
To qualify, one has to have contributed $100 per month in the first 12 months of active duty, been on active duty for at least two years, have earned a high school diploma, and received an honorable discharge.
Source: Military.com. 2021
Aside from the military-specific benefits, military students can apply for financial aid and scholarship programs offered to non-military learners. The Pell Grant works well with military students since it can be used concurrently with the GI Bill (FRANK, 2021). Another worthwhile option is a financial aid package from FAFSA, which also provides aid independent of the GI Bill. Checking the list of scholarships, discount terms, and modes of financial assistance offered by prospective schools and cities/districts also helps.
Although schools from all across the globe are in abundance given the ubiquity of online education, finding a school that offers coursework and support services that fully address your needs as a military student is critical. After all, veterans may have trouble adjusting to a purely educational setting while those on active duty can experience interruptions in their studies.
Thankfully, a lot of institutions have stepped up to not only offer adjusted curricula and tuition incentives but also have dedicated groups to assist military students. Moreover, you can leverage the various benefits at your disposal to further reduce education costs.
However, if what you really need are the lowest costs for undergraduate education, you can read this guide on the most affordable bachelor’s degrees.