More Veteran Students Attended For-Profit Colleges Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill 

by Liang Zhang

For-profit colleges enroll a disproportionately large number of veteran students relative to public and private nonprofit colleges; the imbalance has been reinforced since the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009. In a new study published in Harvard Education Review, Liang Zhang, a professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, finds that since the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a greater proportion of veterans attended for-profit institutions instead of public institutions; and at the same time, they attended colleges in more expensive locations. 
These two trends do not appear to be pure coincidence. One significant change from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the provision of monthly stipends based on Basic Allowance for Housing, which takes into account geographical differences in costs of living and alleviates the financial concerns associated with attending colleges in expensive locations. While the consideration of costs of living does not diminish the importance of other factors (e.g., career and employment opportunities, education, culture, healthcare, etc.) when deciding where to live and attend college, veteran students should be more likely to attend colleges in expensive locations if costs of living are less of a concern, all things being equal. 
Incidentally, the geographical distribution of colleges is far from even. Among institutions covered in National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, the average monthly housing allowance of their locations in FY 2019 is $1,662 for public institutions, $1,865 for private nonprofit institutions, and $1,935 for for-profit institutions. Data from the Veterans Affairs’ GI Bill Comparison Tool reveal similar patterns: the average monthly housing allowance is higher at for-profit institutions than that at public institutions. In other words, the Post-9/11 GI Bill would likely increase the choice of for-profit institutions because of the uneven geographical distribution of different types of colleges. 
College choices are important intermediaries that influence college and post-graduate outcomes. Retention and graduation rates at for-profit institutions are much lower than those at public and private nonprofit institutions. Low graduation rates lead to low economic returns and high loan default rates for students attending for-profit institutions. While recent studies have shown strong positive enrollment growth among veteran students since the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the lopsided enrollment increase at for-private institutions may presage less promising academic success and long-term economic well-being for veteran students. 

About the Author

Liang Zhang is a professor of higher education in the Department of Administration, Leadership, and Technology at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. His research focuses on higher education economics, finance, and public policy, particularly on the role of governments and institutions in affecting institutional performances and student outcomes. He is the author of “How Did the Post-9/11 GI Bill Affect Veteran Students’ Undergraduate College Choices?“ in the Spring 2022 issue of Harvard Educational Review