A new study published by the Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that federal spending on veterans' education has grown 250% in 10 years' time.

Titled "Two Decades of Change in Federal and State Higher Education Funding," the Pew study detailed the decrease in state support and the concurrent increase in federal higher education support.

In 2017, the government dedicated $13.6 billion to veterans' education benefits. The third-largest category of contribution behind financial aid grants and research funding, veterans' education amounted to about 18% of all federal higher education support.

That was a significant departure from where things stood a decade prior. In 2007, the U.S. government dedicated only $3.9 billion to veterans' education.

"Between 2007 and 2017, federal spending on veterans' higher education benefits grew nearly 250 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms, primarily because of the Post-9/11 GI Bill," the Pew study explained. "Other veterans' education support programs shrank over the past decade." 

Indeed, other veterans' education initiatives — including the Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) program, the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program, and the Montgomery GI Bills — have been cut back. Spending on these programs, and others, shrunk by about 48% to $2.4 billion in 2017.

It's the Post-9/11 GI Bill that has been single-handedly driving the change. 

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.""The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."

Veterans' education and the Post-9/11 GI Bill

Of the $13.6 billion allocated to veterans' education in 2017, $11 billion came from the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Approved by President George W. Bush, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 extended GI Bill eligibility and educational benefits to those who have served since September 2001.

The bill was designed to cover many of the expenses that veterans and their families incur when pursuing higher education or vocational training. It funds up to three years of tuition and fees with an annual stipend for textbooks and supplies. It also covers certification test fees, plus a housing allowance with possible relocation assistance

For public universities, all tuition and fees are covered at in-state rates. A set amount is available for private institutions as well; it's capped at roughly $24,500 for the 2019-2010 academic year, although this figure increases each year. 

According to the 2019 Pew study, most of the bill's beneficiaries choose to attend private colleges and universities. Of the veterans and service members financing their education through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, roughly one-third attend private nonprofit schools, one-third attend private for-profit institutions and one-third enroll in public schools.

More changes are coming with the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, known as the Forever GI Bill, which was signed by President Donald Trump in 2017. This program expands eligibility even further with a few other modifications and added benefits, including more support for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and the elimination of some benefit-related expiration dates.

How to apply for benefits

To qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans and active-duty service members, including reservists, must have served for at least 90 days in total since Sept. 10, 2001. Those who served for 30 continuous days before being discharged on the basis of a service-related disability during this timeframe are also eligible.

Some veterans and service members are also eligible to transfer these benefits to a dependent such as a child or spouse.

Eligible individuals may apply online or call 1-888-GI BILL-1 (1-888-442-4551) to request an application by mail. It's also possible to apply at one of the three VA regional offices that handle GI Bill claims. At many schools, VA Certifying Officials are available to help within the financial aid or registrar's office.