Military students making new educational choices in the post-9/11 era, researchers find

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC — More military students and veterans have taken advantage of education benefits since the government expanded them in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a new report by researchers at RTI International.

The report, released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, looks at changes in college enrollment among the military and veteran population since the 2009 rollout of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The bill greatly increased the education benefit available to students who served in the military in the post-9/11 era.

The report compared data from the 2007-2008 school year with data from 2011-2012, and looked for differences between military students and their nonmilitary peers.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Growth in undergraduate enrollment by military students exceeded overall enrollment growth. In 2011-2012, military students represented 4.9 percent of the total of 23.1 million undergraduates, up from 4.5 percent of 20.5 million undergraduates in 2007-2008.
  • Over the study period, military undergraduates began to choose different types of institutions. Military enrollment at for-profit 2-year or higher schools increased from 14 percent to 24 percent, while enrollment at public 2-year colleges slipped from 42 percent to 37 percent.
  • More military students are taking advantage of education benefits, and the amount awarded to each student is increasing. In 2011-12, the average award to undergraduate military students totaled $7,900 per year, up from $5,800 in 2007-08.
  • Online education is more popular among military students than nonmilitary students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. In 2011-2012, 18 percent of military undergraduates and 41 percent of military graduate students took all of their classes online.

“The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides military students with much more generous education benefits than its predecessor,” said Alexandria Walton Radford, the study’s lead author and a senior education research analyst at RTI. “The study shows that more military personnel and veterans are using education benefits and enrolling in higher education, which we know is critical to getting the skills necessary to enter the civilian labor market.”

The report is based on the 2007-2008 and 2011-2012 cohorts of the National Postsecondary Student Aid study. This study, which RTI conducts regularly for the federal Department of Education, collects data from students, institutions, and Department of Education databases.

Two students in military uniforms talk with other students on a college campus.


  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill has offered new education benefits to military and veteran students since 2009
  • After the bill took effect, more military students enrolled in college, and the average amount they received in veterans' education benefits increased
  • Military students are more likely than nonmilitary students to choose for-profit schools and fully online programs