Source: National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, 2016.

Blog Post

By:  Walter Ochinko

May 2021

Our report, Postsecondary Outcomes for Veterans of Color, compares their outcomes to those of their white veteran counterparts using U.S. Department of Education (ED) survey data. Although the surveys provide valuable insights, additional data are needed to better understand the outcomes of GI Bill beneficiaries.[1] This blog briefly summarizes our report’s findings, identifies gaps in the data from the ED surveys we analyzed, and advocates for Congress to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to collect and report outcome data for GI Bill beneficiaries. In 2008, policy makers designed the Post-9/11 GI Bill without ensuring that they had access to key metrics to evaluate the return on investment of a program that now spends more than $10 billion annually to help eligible beneficiaries pursue a postsecondary education. Both policy makers and GI Bill beneficiaries need such information, the former for effective oversight and the latter to help them make an informed choice about their education. Legislation introduced this year in the House and soon to be introduced in the Senate would require VA to report outcome data for GI Bill beneficiaries.

Why is such nuanced data needed? Our research has shown that GI Bill beneficiaries consist of distinct cohorts having different characteristics and facing different challenges in their efforts to earn postsecondary credentials. Examples of these veteran cohorts include (1) white/persons of color/veterans with disabilities; (2) veterans/eligible dependents/active duty servicemembers; (3) enlisted/officers; (4) veterans using/not using benefits; (5) veterans eligible for full benefits/those with only partial eligibility; and (6) veterans with some prior college experience/veterans who are first-time postsecondary students.

What the Data Shows about Outcomes for Undergraduate Veterans of Color

Outcomes were mixed for undergraduate veterans of color, who constituted 41 percent of undergraduate veterans in academic year 2015-16.

  • Undergraduate veterans of color were more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than their white peers and slightly more likely to earn associate’s degrees. They also outperformed nonveterans of color, earning almost twice as many associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
  • Compared to white undergraduate veterans, veterans of color were more likely to withdraw without a credential, which may be related to the fact that greater proportions of veterans of color were associated with five or more of seven risk factors linked to noncompletion, such as having dependents or being single parents.
  • Among bachelor’s degree graduates, the cumulative student loan debt and the percentage who borrowed was similar for white veterans and veterans of color. Irrespective of race, both veterans and nonveterans who earned bachelor’s degrees at for-profit schools had more student loan debt than those who graduated with bachelor’s degrees from public- and nonprofit-sector institutions.
  • About 40 percent of veteran and nonveteran undergraduates were enrolled in community colleges, but those of color were more likely than their white peers to enroll in for-profit institutions.
  • Use of GI Bill benefits by undergraduate veterans of color was lower than by their white peers across all institutional sectors and for each year of enrollment.
  • Compared to nonveterans, undergraduate veterans were much more likely to be male and 30 or older. However, undergraduate veterans of color were more likely than their white peers to be female.

In general, outcomes for veterans of color exceeded those for their nonveteran counterparts who were also independent students, that is individuals who were older, more likely to have dependents, and no longer financially dependent on their parents.

 Gaps in the Data Available from Education Department Surveys 

ED surveys provide the only data that allow analyses of outcomes for different cohorts of veterans. Although our report focused on undergraduate veterans of color, ED surveys could also be used to examine outcomes for other cohorts, including graduate student veterans, active duty servicemembers, or dependents to whom benefits were transferred.

Nonetheless, ED surveys have several limitations for researchers examining veterans’ outcomes, including that (1) no data is provided on institutional level outcomes, such as those available on ED’s College Scorecard; (2) persistence and attainment are available for first-time students only, not for those who had previously attended college; (3) use of benefits can be determined only for the academic year of the survey, and the survey doesn’t ask veterans who are not using benefits if they are/were eligible for the GI Bill or why they are not using benefits; (4) no data is collected on the specific benefit program being used, which is important because the Post-9/11 GI Bill is more generous than the Montgomery GI Bill;[2] (5) individuals are not asked for their eligibility level, which for the Post-9/11 GI Bill can range from 50 percent to 90 percent for beneficiaries who don’t qualify for benefits at the 100 percent level;[3] and (6) no data is collected on attendance levels, which affect the amount of benefits actually received.[4]

Initiatives to Increase the Collection of Data on GI Bill Student Outcomes

There have been several attempts since 2008 to establish datasets on GI Bill student outcomes. None of these initiatives, however, would have allowed researchers to distinguish between veterans and other GI Bill beneficiaries.

  • April 2012. Executive Order 13607 directed ED, VA, and the Department of Defense to develop outcome measures for beneficiaries using the GI Bill. Although the measures were never implemented, they are available through a link on the College Navigator homepage.[5]
  • November 2016. VA and ED signed an agreement that would allow VA to help ED identify GI Bill beneficiaries using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in ED’s student loan databases.[6] The memorandum said that VA planned to publicly report the following data on the GI Bill Comparison Tool: cohort default rates, median loan debt, and repayment rates at the aggregate and institutional levels for Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries who also receive federal loans. No data has been posted to date.
  • December 2016. Congress authorized VA to require schools to report “…such information regarding the academic progress of the individual as the Secretary may require.”[7] Previously, reporting was voluntary, and VA lacked the authority to require schools to report graduation rates or other outcomes. According to VA, all institutions were required to begin reporting academic progress data beginning January 1, 2019. In April 2019, VA told us that it was validating institutional submissions, but, to date, no such information has been made available.
  • March 2019. Pending legislation known as the College Transparency Act would establish a student unit record system that would create a postsecondary federal data system to collect and generate accurate, comprehensive information on student progress and success. One of the data elements is “military or veteran benefit status.” Veteran status is defined as the receipt of benefits.

Legislation to Mandate Collection and Reporting of Outcomes for GI Bill Beneficiaries

Legislation has been or will be introduced in both the House and the Senate to mandate the collection and publication of outcome data on the GI Bill Comparison Tool, a website that went live in 2014. Development of a postsecondary Comparison Tool was mandated by Executive Order 13607 and codified in law by the Comprehensive Veterans Education Information Policy Act (P.L. 112-249). However, the outcome data that the act requires to be included in the Comparison Tool is information that Title IV participating institutions must submit to ED on all students; none of the data applies specifically to veterans or other GI Bill cohorts.

  • Transparency for Student Veterans Act (R. 6157). Congresswoman Elaine Luria’s (D-VA) bill would allow beneficiaries to use the GI Bill Comparison Tool to compare schools using the following metrics: persistence rates, transfer-out rates, graduation rates, average number of years to graduate, employment rates of graduates and those who fail to complete, average salaries, median federal student loan debt, and cohort default rates. Although the legislation calls for reporting outcomes for distinct beneficiary cohorts, the data will not be reported at the institutional level.
  • Student Veterans Transparency and Protection Act. Senator Brian Schatz’s (D-HI) bill would amend § 3698 of Title 38 by requiring VA to report data disaggregated by beneficiary cohort (veteran, active duty servicemembers, and other eligible individuals) for outcome measures similar to those required by Representative Luria’s bill.[8] However, the data would be reported at the institutional level for each school eligible to participate in the GI Bill. The Senator’s office expects to introduce the Bill this year.

To put the data on veterans in perspective, Congress should also consider requiring the Comparison Tool to report outcomes for other nontraditional students who, like veterans, are older, no longer financially dependent on their parents, and more likely to have dependents than the typical high-school graduate who pursues a postsecondary education.


[1]Our analysis relied on two ED surveys—the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey and the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study. The latter survey tracks a cohort of students who enrolled for the first time (hence, “beginning”), which allows researchers to determine the proportion of students who graduate, are still enrolled, and leave without earning a credential.

[2]The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most generous educational benefit program, paying not only tuition and fees but also separate living and book stipends to beneficiaries. All other GI Bill benefit programs provide smaller, lump sum payments, which beneficiaries must allocate among tuition and fees, books, and living expenses.

[3]Only beneficiaries who served at least 3 years on active duty are eligible for the full benefit, referred to as 100 percent eligibility level.

[4]For veterans attending school less than full time (12 credit hours), living expenses and the book stipend are pro-rated. Those pursuing six credits or less receive no such stipends.

[5]In 2013, ED’s Technical Review Panel, which recommends changes to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) reporting standards, required schools to report the number of Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries, the number of servicemembers using DOD Tuition Assistance, and the amount of benefits received.

[6]ED has not been able to identify veterans since a skip-pattern for independent students was introduced to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2009. Because most veterans are independent students (24 years or older or have dependents), they never have an opportunity to self-identify as veterans.

[7]See § 404 of P.L. 114-315.

[8]Section 3698 was added by P.L. 112-249.