In-Depth Study of Post-9/11 GI Bill Finds Better Completion Rates and Higher Earnings for Veterans at Nonprofit and Public (especially Flagship) Postsecondary Institutions than at For-Profit Schools and Lower Earnings for Those Who Skip Their GI Bill

Washington, D.C. – Two reports released today provide new evidence on the educational and labor market outcomes for veterans who did and did not use their education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill (PGIB) and those who used the benefits to attend different types of colleges, including public, nonprofit, and for-profit institutions. 
Among the findings:

  • Veterans who did not personally use their PGIB benefits earned $1,700 less annually than those who did use the benefits, after accounting for a variety of factors, such as academic preparation, military rank, and military occupation. 
  • About 41% of veterans who used PGIB benefits to attend a four-year, for-profit university earned a degree within six years of enrollment. This was significantly lower than those who used benefits to attend a four-year public (58%) or nonprofit (61%) institution. 
  • Among veterans pursuing a degree at a two-year institution, the average annual earnings for those who attended a for-profit institution was $32,800, compared with $38,600 for those who attended a public institution, even though using PGIB benefits at for-profit colleges costs taxpayers more than twice as much as two-year public colleges.

These and other findings are the latest results of an in-depth, interagency study on how enlisted veterans used PGIB, the largest education program operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The first of two reports released today specifically looks at outcomes for veterans based on the type of education they received and provides results for veterans who did not personally use their education benefits. The second report explores enrollment and outcomes at public flagship institutions.

About 2.7 million enlisted veterans were eligible to use the PGIB benefits between 2009 and 2019, the period included in the study. Unprecedented interagency sharing of individual-level data has allowed the first in-depth assessment of how institutions of higher education are serving students who use the PGIB benefits, covering every enlisted service member across all military branches. The inaugural report from this study was released in February and provided a first look at PGIB usage and outcomes.

PGIB represents a significant federal investment: Between 2009 and 2019, nearly $100 billion was budgeted for the program. The results from this study provide data and information to help policymakers and the public better understand how these benefits are being used. Because of the size and scope of the study, the results can also help inform broader higher education policy and practice.

Among the other findings from the new reports: 

  • Nonparticipants: Of PGIB-eligible veterans, slightly more than half (51%) did not personally use their benefits. These nonparticipants were more likely to live in rural areas and micropolitan areas or to have left military service at the lowest or highest ranks. On average, nonparticipants earned $44,800 a year, with those who are female, Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, or from the lowest military ranks earning between $5,000 and $17,600 less. 
  • Nondegree programs: A current topic in Congress is whether to include short-term, nondegree programs in U.S. Department of Education federal student aid programs (so-called “Short-Term Pell”). Such programs are currently eligible for the PGIB, although a relatively small proportion of veterans use their benefits for such programs. Among those who did, earnings were substantially lower at for-profit providers than public providers, although for-profit providers charged VA more in tuition and fees. 
  • Instructional spending: The research team looked at how PGIB students’ outcomes differed by the percentage of tuition that an institution spent on instruction. Veterans tended to enroll at institutions that spent less on instruction and were unlikely to enroll at institutions that spent the most on instruction. Those who attended schools that spent the most on instruction earned the most after college, and this pattern held true even when accounting for other factors.
  • Flagship universities: About 2% of veterans used their benefits at public flagship universities, which are the top public colleges in their states and have relatively selective student admissions (e.g., University of California, Berkeley, and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). Veterans who first enrolled at flagship institutions completed a bachelor’s degree at a higher rate nationally (60%) than those who enrolled at other four-year institutions (45%). After accounting for other veteran characteristics, veterans who completed a bachelor’s degree at a flagship university also had about 3% higher earnings than those who completed a bachelor’s degree at another four-year institution.

"The latest results of our study provide unique insight into the types of institutions veterans attended using their PGIB benefits and their subsequent degree completion and earnings after attending different types of colleges," said Alexandria Walton Radford, senior director at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and co-author of the reports. “This information not only helps policymakers and leaders better understand the use and outcomes of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, but also provides useful data and information about broader higher education policies and practices.”

“For decades, the GI Bill has been one of the single greatest federal investments in higher education,” said Kelly McManus vice president of higher education at Arnold Ventures, which provided funding for the study. “For the first time, we finally are getting measurable insight into how different types of institutions are serving veterans. We’re looking forward to policymakers using this data to improve the existing program and push for even more data sharing and transparency.”

“We are thrilled to help enable this additional study of GI Bill outcomes at flagship public universities,” said Emily Goldman of the Joyce Foundation, which funded an examination of public flagship universities, with a focus on the Great Lakes region. “We are particularly pleased to see that flagship universities in the Great Lakes region consistently produce better outcomes for veterans and we remain committed to helping other colleges in the region better support their students.”

About the Study

A research team from AIR was embedded at the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct the study alongside researchers from the Census Bureau and VA’s National Center for Veterans Analysis & Statistics. Arnold Ventures funded the study, including the purchase of student records from National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization that provides data on enrollment and degree completion for students nationwide. Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit, helped to conceptualize the project and provided assistance.

This project demonstrates the type of information and insights that can be gleaned when agencies collaborate and share data. The study is the first to link data from VA, the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA), U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), IRS, Census Bureau, and the National Student Clearinghouse to explore the number and characteristics of veterans who used PGIB, the degrees that were obtained by those using the benefits, and their labor market outcomes.

Agency representatives worked over seven years to establish data transfer agreements and to merge the data using an interagency platform at the U.S. Census Bureau. The research team analyzed aggregate outcomes drawn from several different datasets, including PGIB benefit use, PGIB payments to schools, degree completion, labor force participation, and earnings. They drew clear conclusions about student outcomes by accounting for sociodemographic data from VA and other agencies, as well as information about military rank, military occupation, service in hostile war zones, and academic preparation at enlistment by linking data from DOD.

“This report demonstrates the utility and benefits of interagency collaborations for evidence building,” said Barbara Downs, the Census Bureau’s Evaluation Officer. “The analyses leverage data and expertise from multiple bureaus to produce statistical evidence to better understand our nation’s people and economy.”

“We are thrilled that federal agencies are finally collaborating on student veterans’ outcomes, something Congress and veterans organizations have requested for years,” said Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success and former senior counsel of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

These reports were authored by Radford, Paul Bailey, Amber Bloomfield, and Naomi Rockefeller from AIR; Bruce Webster Jr., of the Census Bureau; and Hyo Park from VA. More reports are forthcoming, providing insights into outcomes for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native veterans, and for veterans who did not personally use nor transfer their GI Bill benefits.

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About the American Institutes for Research  
Established in 1946, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and the workforce. AIR's work is driven by its mission to generate and use rigorous evidence that contributes to a better, more equitable world. With headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, AIR has offices across the U.S. and abroad. For more information, visit

About Arnold Ventures
Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States. Working in the areas of criminal justice, education, health, public finance, and infrastructure, the organization invests in sustainable change, building it from the ground up based on research, deep thinking, and a strong foundation of evidence.

About the Joyce Foundation
The Joyce Foundation is a private, nonpartisan philanthropy that invests in public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

About Veterans Education Success
Veterans Education Success is a nonprofit policy and direct service organization that works on a bipartisan basis to advance higher education success for veterans, service members, and military families, and to protect the integrity and promise of the GI Bill® and other federal postsecondary education programs.