Tuition Assistance: The Yellow Ribbon and More

The Yellow Ribbon and More: Tuition Assistance for Military Families

Michele Allen
MilitaryByOwner Advertising, Inc.  

College tuition is skyrocketing! Smart military families are utilizing all of the programs available to limit the burden of weighty student loans.  Since the introduction of the original GI Bill in 1944, there has not been a tuition assistance program more accessible than the Post 9-11 GI Bill and its partner the Yellow Ribbon Program. 

Congress, in the summer of 2008, approved an expansion of benefits beyond the current G.I. Bill program for military veterans serving since September 11, 2001.  Beginning in August 2009, recipients became eligible for greatly expanded benefits, or the full cost of any public college in their state. The new bill also provides a housing allowance and $1,000 a year stipend for books, among other benefits. 

Most significantly, there is a special provision of the program that allows career service members to share their remaining GI Bill (education) benefits with immediate family members. The key factor is whether or not the member has used any of his or her GI Bill in the past; only unused benefits can be transferred. This means that if the member has used 12 months of his or her GI Bill, then there is only 24 months of benefit left to share. 

Service members must meet these specific criteria to be eligible to transfer their GI Bill benefits:

Any member of the Armed Forces (active duty or Selected Reserve, officer or enlisted) on or after August 1, 2009, who is eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and

  • Has at least 6 years of service in the Armed Forces on the date of election and agrees to serve 4 additional years in the Armed Forces from the date of election.

  • Has at least 10 years of service in the Armed Forces (active duty and/or selected reserve) on the date of election, is precluded by either standard policy (service or DoD) or statute from committing to 4 additional years, and agrees to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute, 

  • Is or becomes retirement eligible during the period from August 1, 2009, through August 1, 2013. A service member is considered to be retirement eligible if he or she has completed 20 years of active duty or 20 qualifying years of reserve service.  Specific additional service applies to retirement dates between August 1, 2009 and August 1, 2013.  

The Post 9/11 GI Bill will cover the cost of any public in state tuition.  However, private institutions can often have markedly higher costs.  Institutions of Higher Learning (Degree Granting Institutions) may elect to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program to make additional funds available for your education program without an additional charge to your GI Bill entitlement. 

Institutions that voluntarily enter into a Yellow Ribbon Agreement with the VA choose the amount of tuition and fees that will be contributed. VA will match that amount and issue payment directly to the institution. Not only do schools independently determine the amount of its Yellow Ribbon Contribution, they also determine the number of students that will be assisted by the Yellow Ribbon each year.  To search for private institutions participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program and their benefits go to .   

Spouse Tuition Assistance is another program, formally titled MyCAA Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts that can provide assistance with rising education costs.  The Department of Defense reopened the popular MyCAA program in October 2010, with several key changes in eligibility and dollar amounts. The benefit is available to spouses of active duty service members in pay grades E1-E5, W1-W2, and O1-O2, including the spouses of activated Guard and Reserve members within those ranks. Spouses of Guard and Reserve members must be able to start and complete their courses while their sponsor is on Title 10 orders.

There is a maximum financial benefit of $4,000 with a fiscal year cap of $2,000. Waivers will be available for spouses pursuing licensure or certification up to the total maximum assistance of $4,000.  The program requires military spouses to finish their program of study within three years from the start date of the first course.  It is limited to associate degrees, certification and licensures.

Survivors and Dependants Education Assistance is a program specifically intended to benefit the spouse or child of a service member who died or is permanently and totally disabled as the result of a service-connected disability. The disability must arise out of active service in the Armed Forces. This would include service members that are missing in action or detained by a foreign government or power.  This program aims to assist eligible beneficiaries for up to 45 months of degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training.

Each service has tuition assistance programs tailored to meet the needs of its members and families.   The Army offers the Stateside Spouse Education Assistance Program and the Spouse Education Assistance Program. The Air Force offers the General Henry R. Arnold Education Grant Program and the General George S. Brown Spouse Tuition Program.  The Navy and Marine Branches offer The Navy Maine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) and the Spouse Tuition Aid Program (STAP).  The Coast Guard programs are available at

There are many scholarships and grants tailored specifically to benefit military members and their families. 

For tips on finding and winning these scholarships download :Tuition Assistance: Where to find and win scholarships