The blog of the Urban Institute
April 27, 2021

The Post-9/11 GI Bill Underserves Apprentices. Here Are Three Ways It Can Do Better.

April 27, 2021

We corrected four numbers based on new information we learned about a US Department of Veterans Affairs policy. For veteran apprentices in DC: 1) apprenticeship over college means missing out on $134,000 in GI Bill benefits, 2) GI Bill benefits listed in year 4 of the table are $6,645, 3) total benefits listed in the table are $54,804, and 4) if students and apprentices received equal funds for housing, DC apprentices could get $24,402 more (corrected 4/30/2021).


The Post-9/11 GI Bill, available to anyone who served as active duty military for more than 90 days after September 10, 2001, is one of the largest education benefit programs in the United States. Most of its more than $10 billion annual budget goes to universities and junior colleges, including high-cost private schools for postgraduate professions such as law, business, and medicine.

The GI Bill also provides benefits for on-the-job training (OJT) sites and Registered Apprenticeship Programs. Veteran apprentices’ benefits, however, are limited only to basic housing allowance and books or tools, which is reduced to a meager $6,642 annual benefit for a third-year apprentice in the nation’s capital. This means if a veteran decides to apprentice instead of attend a four-year private university in Washington, DC, they are leaving as much as $134,000 in GI Bill benefits on the table.

GI Bill Benefits for Veterans by Educational Institution

 

GI Bill Benefits for Veterans Attending
a Private Four-Year College in DC

GI Bill Benefits for Veteran
Apprentices in DC

Year 1

$47,330

$26,402

Year 2

$47,330

$15,112

Year 3

$47,330

$6,645

Year 4

$47,330

$6,645

 

$189,320

$54,804

Source: GI Bill Comparison Tool, US Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Notes: The first column’s estimates are prepared using the GI Bill Comparison Tool, with the cost of tuition, books, and housing, assuming nine months of instruction per year. The second column is prepared using the GI Bill Comparison Tool for the cost of housing and books only (as directed by the Post-9/11 GI Bill).

 

Intentionally or not, this signals a lower perceived value for apprenticeship and an undercurrent of classism directed at veterans who choose to learn by doing rather than by sitting in a classroom. If the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can pay a retired officer’s tuition, room, and board for an elite business school, then it can also afford adequate housing for the cyber security techs, industrial mechanics, and insurance professionals who served in Fallujah, Kandahar, and the Red Sea.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill does more than just disadvantage veteran apprentices—it misses a valuable opportunity to strengthen the workforce and close the skills gap. Though fewer than 3 percent of Americans qualify for the GI Bill, history has proven time and again that veteran benefits are a major tool for social policy with outsize ripples and impacts. A GI Bill that does more to support veteran apprentices and their employers could easily advance skill attainment and veterans’ wage gains and expand noncollege career pathways.

Past recommendations have asserted that to expand veteran apprenticeship, the VA should increase outreach on the benefits for OJT and apprenticeship. These recommendations don’t account for the incredible reach of career-advice scuttlebutt among military and veteran communities. If a benefits program exists, service members and veterans likely know about it. If the benefits aren’t being used, then service members and veterans likely don’t see them as particularly valuable.

With only 1 percent of GI Bill education benefits going to OJT and apprenticeship, benefits clearly aren’t enough. We identify three key ways federal policymakers can expand access to benefit apprentices and their employers.

  1. Provide equitable housing assistance for OTJ learners

    When a veteran uses their GI Bill for education, either on the job or in a schoolhouse, they receive monthly housing assistance that mirrors local housing costs. A university student receives their full housing allowance for their entire benefit period, but an apprentice’s housing allowance begins decreasing after the first six months, with additional cuts every six months following. After two years, a veteran apprentice only receives 20 percent of their original allotment, turning what was a robust living allowance into a paltry sum that scarcely covers groceries.

    Apprenticeship would become a significantly more attractive option if students and apprentices received equal funds for housing. According to the table above, this change could increase the amount for DC apprentices by $24,402. It would also enable veterans to maximize their benefits and training options while supporting their family’s financial well-being. And for employers with apprenticeship programs, this change means equitably supporting their veteran apprentices with the benefits they’ve earned.
  2. Reduce barriers to benefits

    Currently, for veteran apprentices to receive their housing allowance, employers must register with their VA-designated State Approving Agency (SAA). This process is separate and distinct from registering an apprenticeship program with the US Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency. Furthermore, VA approval does not travel across state borders, meaning employers must repeat the process for each state they operate in.

    The 2017 VALOR (Veterans Apprenticeship and Labor Opportunity Reform) Act aimed to simplify this process for national companies by allowing employers to extend their recognition to all additional states in a single step, but it does not resolve the more central issue of parallel registration systems. To avoid employers having to coordinate with two separate approving agencies, programs registered through a registration agency could be automatically certified for GI Bill benefits via new technology platforms, with appropriate details and documentations shared between agencies.

    The VALOR Act introduced its own complications. Under the VALOR Act, national group apprenticeship programs with multiple employers must register each individual employer with their respective SAA. This doesn’t just make the VALOR Act moot—it increases the complexity of registration for these types of programs. Small businesses, apprenticeship intermediaries, and veteran apprentices stand to suffer the most from this policy, as it could result in routine delays in benefit receipt at the beginning of apprenticeships, when apprentices need them most.

    Though new legislation and funding seeks to expand the role of apprenticeship intermediaries, this component of the VALOR Act actively undermines intermediaries’ ability to serve veterans. Veterans, employers, and sponsors deserve a straightforward, accessible registration system with a single, comprehensive approval and recognition process.
  3. Provide additional support to participating employers

    Employers receive few, if any, direct financial benefits for registering their program with the VA, despite navigating a complex additional process while continuing to pay apprentice wages and technical education costs. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated America’s reskilling crisis and has widened the skills gap, proving that job training requires more support than ever. Providing financial incentives to GI Bill–participating Registered Apprenticeship Programs (PDF) could help expand an effective, evidence-based job training strategy in the face of this crisis. Lawmakers could also consider other ways to support participating employers, such as by reforming the Post-9/11 GI Bill to allow more apprenticeship programs to offset their costs for veterans’ education.

Policymakers have an opportunity to ensure veteran apprentices are fairly compensated, housed, and well equipped for this new labor market. Doing so would benefit not only apprentices but also employers and America as a whole.


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Seabee students from Naval Construction Training Center Port Hueneme guide a new vibratory driver/extractor system into position while practicing pile driving operations, June 14. (Photo by Amber Vaglica / Seabee Magazine)

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