By: Chad Storlie

Many veterans have the financial resources for higher education with benefits ranging from Tuition Assistance to the variations of the GI Bill. Where they need assistance is finding the right colleges and universities that truly deliver successful outcomes for their students. 

#1 – Is College for You Right Now?  A basic step that is often underappreciated is making sure that the student is ready to complete college. This must be an open and thoughtful discussion because young people often feel pressure to get higher education even if they do not feel a strong desire or interest in going to college right now. An important fact to know is that college students who leave school with debt, but no college degree, are actually worse off financially than most high school graduates. College is a great step in almost any career, but only if you complete it, and even better, with a low level of debt. 


#2 – Select Higher Education Institutions That Are Local, Physical, and Have A Large Student Body. Value colleges are usually large, public universities with a physical campus in major cities. The reason that these colleges deliver good value is that public schools have large student bodies which translates to many available major fields of study, a large alumni network for hiring and mentoring opportunities, and very reasonable tuition and fee requirements. In addition, value colleges are used to serving both traditional and non-traditional student bods so they likely have on-line and traditional classroom options. 


#3 – Evaluate Schools Based on Educational Outcomes & Not on Marketing Material.  It is very, very easy to get drawn into the glamorous marketing material that colleges produce.  Scenic ivy covered campuses, the ease of on-line classes, and nationally recognized faculty members all make the brochures and websites irresistible. Military veteran students need to choose a college based on outcomes and not on advertising. 


These eight criteria can help you evaluate whether or not an institution delivers on results:


1.  Undergraduate Enrollment – Higher is better, especially if there are more alumni in your related career fields.

2.  Retention Rate of Undergraduate Students – This percentage indicates how many students continue their education at the college.

3.  Graduation Rate of All Students – The percentage of students who graduate.

4.  Average Salary All Students – Salary following graduation.      

5.  Student Loan Repayment Rate of All Students – The percentage of students who successfully pay back their college debts.

6.  Average Student Loan Debt – The average amount of student loan debt upon graduation.

7.  In State Tuition Levels – The average amount of in-state tuition.

8.  Educational Complaint Count – The number of educational complaints against the school, which may be a signal of poor financial standing, lack of compliance for accreditation, or deceptive financial/recruiting practices.


Once you have the information for these eight criteria, you should be able to compare the results against other academic institutions. This information is only valuable when you compare like measures against other institutions. The goal is to get the best outcome in all possible variables.


# 4 – Apply to 5 to 6 Schools That Meet Your Criteria with a Focus on Educational Outcomes. A focus on higher education is the only way to cut through the school’s marketing and advertising information to determine what your expected financial outcome will be from your degree. The goal is to find the school that costs the lowest amount, graduates their students on time, gets them employed, and has graduates that leave school with a low amount of debt.


#5 – Be Focused on Total “Net” Costs of Education. Just because a school has a low tuition level does not mean that the school will be the lowest in net cost. To determine the total or net education cost, a student must use the following calculation:


Net College Expense = (Tuition + Expenses + Living Expenses) – Non-Loan Educational Assistance (Calculated Over a 4 Year Period).


#6 – Stay the Course & Graduate on Time. College is hard, graduate school is hard, and so are other professional programs. When you make the choice to start your degree, make that commitment in blood so that no matter what happens, you will finish. Degree completion is the secret to post college success.


Planning for college is best done by looking at the educational outcomes that a school has delivered over time to their graduates. Marketing materials do not provide the discerning information one needs to choose an educational institution. Pick your college with a high graduation rate, high average post college income, a low tuition level, and a low level of student debt. Finally, once you have made the commitment to college, make the commitment to complete your degree as fast as possible.


APPENDIX: The Top 4 Schools for Military Veterans in Each State by Educational Outcome Criteria.  Listed Alphabetically by State.

Name of College Or University CITY STATE ZIP
University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks AK 99775-7500
University of Alaska Anchorage Anchorage AK 99508
Alaska Pacific University Anchorage AK 99508
University of Alaska Southeast Juneau AK 99801-8697
Auburn University Auburn AL 36849
University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham AL 35294-0110
Samford University Birmingham AL 35229-2240
University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville AL 35899
University of Arkansas Fayetteville AR 72701
Harding University Searcy AR 72143
John Brown University Siloam Springs AR 72761
University of Central Arkansas Conway AR 72035-0001
University of Arizona Tucson AZ 85721-0066
Arizona State University-Tempe Tempe AZ 85287
Northern Arizona University Flagstaff AZ 86011-4092
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott Prescott AZ 86301-3720
California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo CA 93407
University of California-Berkeley Berkeley CA 94720
California State University-Long Beach Long Beach CA 90840-0115
University of California-San Diego La Jolla CA 92093
University of Colorado Boulder Boulder CO 80309-0017
Colorado School of Mines Golden CO 80401
Regis University Denver CO 80221-1099
University of Denver Denver CO 80208
University of Connecticut Storrs CT 6269
Wesleyan University Middletown CT 6459
Central Connecticut State University New Britain CT 6050
Quinnipiac University Hamden CT 6518
Georgetown University Washington DC 20057-0001
Catholic University of America Washington DC 20064
George Washington University Washington DC 20052
American University Washington DC 20016-8001
University of Delaware Newark DE 19716
Wilmington University New Castle DE 19720
Delaware Technical Community College-Owens Georgetown DE 19947
Delaware Technical Community College-Terry Dover DE 19901
Florida State University Tallahassee FL 32306-1037
University of South Florida-Main Campus Tampa FL 33620-9951
University of Central Florida Orlando FL 32816
Florida Gulf Coast University Fort Myers FL 33965-6565
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus Atlanta GA 30332-0530
University of Georgia Athens GA 30602
Georgia College and State University Milledgeville GA 31061
Emory University Atlanta GA 30322
University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu HI 96822-2217
Brigham Young University-Hawaii Laie HI 96762-1294
University of Hawaii-West Oahu Kapolei HI 96707-4507
University of Hawaii at Hilo Hilo HI 96720-4091
University of Iowa Iowa City IA 52242-1316
University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls IA 50614-0005
Drake University Des Moines IA 50311-4505
Grinnell College Grinnell IA

Author - Chad Storlie

Director, Customer Insights at Union Pacific Railroad & Advocate / Author On Uses of Military Skills in Business