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The Best Colleges for Veterans

Our team reviewed hundreds of renowned college and universities to identify the best educational options available to degree-seeking veterans. The top three colleges for 2016 are Colorado State University, Arizona State University, and the University of South Florida.

 

Overview of Research

For this ranking, our team carried out a detailed assessment of the academic and support services offered to veterans at every major U.S. college.

We identified five veteran-focused core metrics to score each school on: Military and Veteran Population, Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans, Reputation, Student to Faculty Ratio and Yellow Ribbon Awards. Equal weight was placed on all five core metrics to determine the overall scores.

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The Best Colleges for Veterans

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College Factual Ranking of 4-Year Schools for Vets
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Methodology

How we selected which data to use in our methodology

We started by compiling a list of every major U.S. college from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Then we eliminated schools whose veteran services did not meet our minimum standards. In order to make the initial cut, colleges had to award credit for military training, had to have a department or administrative team solely dedicated to helping veterans and active military member and, lastly, had to have at least some services and programs specifically supporting veteran and military students.

This cut our list down to 382 colleges that met our initial criteria.

From there, we further narrowed our list by looking at each college’s reputations on these three rankings: College Factual, Military Times, and Best Colleges. We identified every college previously recognized at least twice for supporting veterans. Any college that did not meet that criteria was cut, leaving us with 103 colleges.

We then collected the data for our five core metrics to grade each of the 103 remaining colleges. This process would ultimately lead to our final list of the top 50 colleges for veterans.

The five core metrics and their weights we used were:

  1. Military and Veteran Population – 20%
  2. Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans – 20%
  3. Reputation – 20%
  4. Student to Faculty Ratio – 20%
  5. Yellow Ribbon Awards – 20%

Each core metric, except reputation, sourced the most recent academic data from IPEDS.

How we scored our methodology

A college’s core metric score was determined by the its rank in that statistic compared to everyone else. For example, in our list of schools, the University of South Florida had the 3rd lowest out of pocket costs for veterans. We converted this 3rd place finish into a score on a 10 point scale, with 10 being the highest. This gave South Florida a 9.6 out of 10 ― a score determined by the total number of schools ranked and the number of ties in the rankings.

Once we had scores for all five core metrics, we looked at how schools did overall. We treated the features as equal when arriving at an overall score, which breaks down as follows:

  1. Military and Veteran Population – 20%
  2. Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans – 20%
  3. Reputation – 20%
  4. Student to Faculty Ratio – 20%
  5. Yellow Ribbon Awards – 20%

So, looking at the University of South Florida again, here’s how the school did overall:

  1. Military and Veteran Population – 5.6/10
  2. Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans – 9.6/10
  3. Reputation – 10/10
  4. Student to Faculty Ratio – 4.1/10
  5. Yellow Ribbon Awards – 7.2/10

The average of these scores was 7.31, the third highest average amongst all schools reviewed, making the University of South Florida our #3 school for veterans.

Ties were broken by way of additional data, specifically the total number of federal military programs offered at each school and the number of complaints about a school logged by the Office of Veterans Affairs.

Drawbacks of our methodology

The major drawback of our methodology is it is almost exclusively focused on the school’s commitment to their veteran students, meaning we did not look at the overall academic merits of each institution. Prospective students interested in delving into such data can refer to publications like IPEDs, U.S. News Rankings or the Princeton Review.

Understanding Our Data

Learn about our core metrics

1. Military and Veteran Population back to metric

Important

20.00% of our methodology score

Schools with a significant military student population tend to have extensive support services for veterans. It is also a sure sign that military and veteran students will find a community of fellow servicemembers on-campus whom they share a bond with. A high military population can also mean the school is close to a military base or bases, which can prove convenient for servicemembers that require regular access to such facilities.

In order to determine the military and veteran population, we looked at the number of GI Bill recipients found on campus, as reported by IPEDs for the ’13-’14 school year. We then looked at the total undergraduate population at the school to see what percent received GI Bill support. The higher the percent, the larger the military and veteran population.

Highest Scoring Colleges in Military and Veteran Population
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2. Out of Pocket Costs Post GI-Bill back to metric

Important

20.00% of our methodology score

The GI Bill is an essential package of benefits for veterans. A key part of the bill is its financial support of higher education; military members receive most if not all of the funds to cover tuition, housing and other common expenses accrued while pursuing a degree. While the GI Bill covers a large portion of educational expenses, especially at public institutions, with the cost of education continuing to climb, it rarely covers all costs.

We looked at the average amounts awarded to GI Bill recipients depending on state and school and compared that support to the estimated annual costs at each institution. The difference between the two determined the order of our rankings. The lower the out of pocket costs to veterans, the higher a school scored.

Highest Scoring Colleges in Out of Pocket Costs Post GI Bill
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3. Reputation back to metric

Important

20.00% of our methodology score

As we stated in our methodology, reputation played a key role in further narrowing our list of schools. We consulted three existing rankings that review schools for veterans: College Factual, Military Times and Best Colleges. We looked at how each school performed on each publication’s rankings, recognizing that many schools made some lists but not others.

Some rankings were more closely aligned to our own, so we gave greater weight to schools that made their lists. Schools with high rankings in these publications earned top marks in our own reputation score.

Here’s how we weighed each publication:

Highest Scoring Colleges in Reputation
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4. Student to Faculty Ratio back to metric

Important

20.00% of our methodology score

A school’s student to faculty is simply an excellent indicator of how much individual attention students receive and is therefore a great way to gauge a school’s investment in its students. The ratio is the only non-veteran feature we assessed, as we felt veterans deserved a school that prioritized easy access to professors and administrators.

Highest Scoring Colleges in Student to Faculty Ratio
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5. Yellow Ribbon Awards back to metric

Important

20.00% of our methodology score

Schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon program prove their commitment to veteran students by working in conjunction with Veterans Affairs to provide students with funds to cover educational expenses beyond the scope of the GI Bill. As we saw with our review of out of pocket costs post GI Bill, annual educational costs are rarely covered in full, especially at private institutions. The amount a school can provide veterans via the Yellow Ribbon can seriously lessen the burden of those additional costs. We looked at the average annual amount schools award Yellow Ribbon recipients (as of the ’13-’14 school year); the higher the amount, the higher schools scored.

Highest Scoring Colleges in Yellow Ribbon Awards
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Editor's Awards

Colorado State University

With a consistently excellent reputation, low costs and great aid support for veterans, Colorado State is a deserving #1.

For prospective students, Colorado State’s commitment to veterans is perhaps most striking when looking at the school’s online portal for its Office of Military and Veteran Benefits. It is at once an incredibly thorough and straightforward resource, covering every common concern or inquiry veterans might have: benefits, residency, aid assistance, experiential credit, the list goes on. CSU services that directly support vets include near universal in-state tuition for all honorably discharged servicemembers and a comprehensive credit awarding system for veterans who’ve completed CLEP or DANTES exams or who are willing to take similar exams for credit.

Notable veteran initiatives at CSU include the New Start for Student Veterans Program, Adult Learner and Veteran Services (ALVS) and an on-campus Student Veterans of America chapter. The New Start program is specifically designed to help veterans acclimate and integrate into the higher education setting. The program has an on-campus office and its staff are wholly dedicated to providing veterans with academic support and extensive counseling services ― all at no cost to students. ALVS, meanwhile, hosts a series of on-campus workshops for veterans, which are focused more on general success, especially post-graduation. ALVS workshops commonly cover things like improving your resume, learning to manage your finances and defining and pursuing your career goals. Both programs prove just how important empowering veteran students is to the CSU community.

While CSU never took top honors in any one category, it was remarkably consistent at earning high scores across all major features. Out of pocket costs post GI bill came in at a near-rock-bottom $170 annually, the 5th best score amongst schools reviewed. The school was also 5th best in terms of average Yellow Ribbon awards, giving out nearly $6,000 per student each year.

Drawbacks:

  • The school’s GI bill recipients relative to total undergraduate population comes in at a somewhat low 5.3%.
  • The school’s student to faculty ratio, 16:1, sits firmly in the middle of the pack of all schools evaluated.

Ranking Results:

  • Military and Veteran Population – 4.4/10
  • Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans – 9.2/10
  • Reputation – 8.8/10
  • Student to Faculty Ratio – 5.9/10
  • Yellow Ribbon Awards – 9.1/10



Hawaii Pacific University

Hawaii Pacific's proximity to major military bases key to its high military population and excellent support services.

Hawaii Pacific’s total GI bill recipients make up a whopping 31% of the undergraduate population. Such a high military population is due in large part to the presence of so many bases and compounds throughout the state, the largest concentration in the country according to Hawaii Life. The school is based in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, which also happens to have the most bases of any island in the state, with every brand of the military represented there.

As you’d expect, HPU offers extensive support to vets. Courses are offered online and offline to give veterans more options and the school also supports concurrent enrollment, meaning students can pursue courses at other approved schools and count the credits as part of an HPU degree, without a protracted transfer process. Finally, the veteran’s resource section of the HPU site is notable for its clear presentation and explanation of all major veteran benefits.

Drawbacks:

  • Hawaii Pacific underperformed in reputation, receiving fairly low marks in the College Factual rankings.
  • Average Yellow Ribbon awards come in at a low $1,424 on average. Considering the high cost of living in Hawaii, this is all the more a drawback.

Ranking Results:

  • Military and Veteran Population – 10/10
  • Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans – 9.8/10
  • Reputation – 2.8/10
  • Student to Faculty Ratio – 7.6/10
  • Yellow Ribbon Awards – 2.6/10



Saint Joseph's College-New York

Saint Joseph's impresses with virtually free education for veterans.

Saint Joseph’s in New York stands out for its exceptionally low costs to veterans. On average, it is expected that funds provided by the GI Bill will cover all expenses at the school, with a surplus of over $10,000 remaining. According to College Factual, tuition at St. Joseph’s sits at approximately $23,000 annually, while off-campus living expenses are estimated at $10,000 (for eight month’s time) and course supplies for a year are estimated at $1,000.

While the GI bill is projected to cover approximately $20,000 of tuition, leaving a few thousand to cover, living expenses are where the greatest impact is made, with the GI Bill estimated to award out $22,000, resulting in a significant surplus. Of course these are just estimates, but the idea that the GI bill can effectively cover all costs at a private school should provide some comfort to prospective veteran students.

As for support services, St. Joseph’s has a team of dedicated advisers for veterans, an armed forces club and a host of online classes that can provide veterans with a great deal of flexibility while they earn their degree.

Drawbacks:

  • Only 2.66% of Saint Joseph’s undergraduate population receive GI Bill support, the 2nd lowest percent of our top 50 schools.
  • Average Yellow Ribbon awards come in at a relatively low average of $1,962 per student.

Ranking Results:

  • Military and Veteran Population – 0.4/10
  • Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans – 10/10
  • Reputation – 5.3/10
  • Student to Faculty Ratio – 8.8/10
  • Yellow Ribbon Awards – 3/10



University of South Florida-Main Campus

University of South Florida is one of the most lauded schools for veterans.

The Military Times named USF the nation’s second best four-year school for veterans in 2015, while College Factual named it the 14th best overall. You rarely see that level of consensus between these publications as their criteria greatly differ ― a sign of South Florida’s commitment to veterans on every front.

South Florida’s most prominent initiative in support of veterans is the VetSuccess on Campus program, which dubs itself a first of its kind service designed to help veterans adjust to civilian life and pursue a great education in earnest. This program was launched under the supervision of the office of Veterans Affairs and has been monitored for its effectiveness in integrating and rehabilitating student veterans. The program has on-campus counselor that offer tutoring, degree and career counseling and guidance on how to maximize veteran benefits.

USF takes great pride in the community of veterans it has fostered, providing veteran students with opportunities to support one another as they work towards their degrees. Programs in place allow veterans to tutor each other or to sponsor newly enrolled students.

The school also coordinates regular events for veterans, including a chili cookoff, a jobs expo and a special football game where veterans are recognized and honored.

Drawbacks:

  • South Florida’s student to faculty ratio is 19:1, which reflects the large size of the school.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, only 6.21% of undergraduates are GI Bill recipients.

Ranking Results:

  • Military and Veteran Population – 5.6/10
  • Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans – 9.6/10
  • Reputation – 10/10
  • Student to Faculty Ratio – 4.1/10
  • Yellow Ribbon Awards – 7.2/10



Pace University-New York

While lacking in some areas, Pace's Yellow Ribbon awards are far and away the largest on our list.

The average Yellow Ribbon award given out to veteran students at Pace is $9,809. This amount plays a sizable role in reducing the school’s nearly $40,000 annual tuition (before the GI bill). Such a large amount awarded explains why, in the ’13-’14 school year, 161 students received a Yellow Ribbon award, the fourth highest total of all schools reviewed.

Though Pace comes up short in terms of reputation and overall military population, the school maintains an impressive array of veteran services. Most notable, Pace has a Student Veterans of America chapter on-campus. The school also offers a scholarship exclusively for veterans, has career service counselors working in support of vets and does the work to help enrolled veterans connect with and support one another. The school also has a “Military Mondays” program targeted at prospective veteran students that, once a week, allows them to apply in-person with the application fee waived. Veterans who do so will receive an acceptance decision that same day.

Lastly, the school maintains a handy online resource for veterans entitled Ten Tips for College Veterans that succinctly explains some of the best strategies for first-time veteran students.

Drawbacks:

  • In spite of having high Yellow Ribbon award amounts, the school has the 7th highest out of pocket costs post GI Bill at an average of $9,676 annually.
  • Pace’s reputation is not particularly established, finishing 48th in College Factual’s rankings.

Ranking Results:

  • Military and Veteran Population – 3.2/10
  • Out of Pocket Costs for Veterans – 1.4/10
  • Reputation – 4.2/10
  • Student to Faculty Ratio – 7.1/10
  • Yellow Ribbon Awards – 10/10

Directory of Veterans Affairs Departments by State

Additional resources for veterans seeking advice about attending college

Last Updated on May 16, 2016

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