Best for Vets: Colleges 2019 rankings
In the market for a good school where you can use your education benefits?
We surveyed hundreds of colleges across the country and used their answers, combined with federal data, to rank them in the areas of university culture, academic quality and outcomes, policies, student support and costs and financial aid.
Read about our top finishers below and check out the full list of schools in the charts to help inform your decision.
1. Georgia Southern University
Veterans and service members make up about 8 percent of the student body at Georgia Southern University, the largest proportion of any top 10 school in the four-year category. The school recently consolidated with Armstrong State University, which has for years been a top finisher in our Best for Vets rankings.
“We are extremely proud of the programs, services and campus culture we have developed that provide service members, veterans and their families the opportunity to achieve their academic and professional goals,” said Phil Gore, Georgia Southern University’s director of Military and Veterans Affairs. “Being recognized by Military Times as one of the best institutions for military-affiliated students demonstrates the level of commitment we have to providing our military population an optimal educational experience to ensure they complete a postsecondary degree.”
2. University of South Florida
At the University of South Florida, military-connected students are retained, complete courses and graduate at higher rates, on average, than their peers at other schools that provided this information on the survey. They also have a slightly higher GPA than non-military students at the school – 3.21, compared to 3.17.
“The university has made it a point, no matter the issue, to work with veterans from the moment they show interest in the school, through their matriculation and even beyond graduation into their future career,” said Air Force veteran and University of South Florida graduate Aimee Carpenter, now an admission and benefits coordinator at the school. “At any point throughout their journey, the Office of Veteran Success is there to help our student veterans and their families in any way they can.”
3. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
At Rutgers, the largest school in the top 10 with more than 69,000 students, the student veteran population has tripled in the last decade, said Ann Treadway, director of the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services. The school has both a veterans center for socializing and an office for processing military education benefits on campus, as well as a virtual veterans center to replicate these services for online students.
1. Central Community College-Nebraska
This multi-campus community college serving a 25-county area in Nebraska topped our list of 2-year schools for the sixth year in a row.
“Student veterans face unique challenges as they readjust to civilian life, and we are dedicated and proud to have multiple centers and services available to empower them through the transition,” said Travis Karr, director of veteran and military services.
Central recently opened its fourth Veteran and Military Resource Center at its Kearney Learning Center satellite campus, providing comprehensive resources and services for students and embodying “Central Community College’s mission to maximize student and community success,” Karr said.
2. Northwestern Michigan College
At Northwestern Michigan College, the Office of Military and Veteran Services tries to serve as the “new team” for students who recently separated from the military. It’s no wonder, then, that of the five areas we consider for the Best for Vets: Colleges list — culture, student support, cost and financial aid, policies and academic quality — culture was the school’s strongest category.
“The men and women who have chosen to serve our country deserve our respect, our gratitude and our support,” said Scott Herzberg, advisor for military and veteran services at Northwestern Michigan College. “They have invested time, energy, and passion with their whole being to do a job few in our nation now do. It’s our turn to serve them, just as they have served us.”
3. Tarrant County College Trinity River Campus
At the Trinity River Campus of Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, the 1997 book “Inside the Magic Kingdom” is required reading for all news hires, school officials told Military Times. That translates to “aggressively” friendly customer service for students, and the Disney-like atmosphere could be one reason the school earned high marks on our rankings.
Like most other schools on the list, Tarrant County College is a signatory of the Veterans Affairs Department’s Principles of Excellence and Eight Keys to Veterans’ Success and has both a veterans center and a veterans office on campus.
Online and Nontraditional Schools
1. Liberty University
Liberty University is the largest school in our online and nontraditional rankings list with nearly 103,000 students. And while Liberty has a physical campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, the overwhelming majority of its 30,000 veteran, service-member and military-dependent students have opted to attend online, according to enrollment figures provided by the school.
The university did a better job of retaining both its military and non-military students between 2016 and 2017 than most other online and nontraditional schools that participated in the survey.
“In 2017, we were designated as a Purple Heart University — the first one in Virginia — in recognition of our support of military members, including veterans and their families,” said President Jerry Falwell Jr. “We consider it a great honor to serve these men and women who have made sacrifices for our country.”
2. University of Maryland University College
"At UMUC, we know what it means to serve the educational needs of veterans, as well as service members transitioning out of the military, because we have been doing it for more than 70 years,” said retired Army Col. Keith Hauk, associate vice president for veterans initiatives and military operations support at the university.
Military students make up more than 45 percent of the student population at the school, which offers classes primarily online, but also in person, including on many military installations in the U.S. and overseas. Aside from being a top-ranked school, UMUC is also the second most popular destination for service members using TA benefits and is among the top 10 most common colleges chosen by GI Bill users, according to federal data.
3. Excelsior College
Excelsior College, headquartered in Albany, New York, had the highest military-student graduation rate of any online and nontraditional school that provided this information in the survey. It also tied for the lowest student loan default rate among schools ranked in this list.
“Through flexible, affordable, and career-oriented academic programs and wide-ranging student-centric services and resources offered by our Center for Military and Veteran Education, we are well positioned to assist former service members achieve their educational and career goals,” said Excelsior President James Baldwin. “Their success remains the most significant measure of our success as an institution.”
Career and Technical Colleges
1. ECPI University
ECPI University runs on a year-round schedule, offering five-week terms with both in-classroom, online and hybrid options that offer military and veteran students flexibility and speed in their education, said Bill Brown, executive director of military education at the for-profit school. And in many cases, classes replicate the training programs students went through during their active-duty service.
"At ECPI University, we value and honor military experience,” Brown said. “Our academic team works diligently to ensure that all relevant military education and training is translated into academic credit. That military experience carries over not just in credit, but also value to the entire student body.”
2. Savannah Technical College
At Savannah Technical College, one in four students is a veteran, service member or a military dependent, said Jim Krupp, the school’s military outreach coordinator.
“We are proud to serve military-affiliated students and continue to look for ways to support them, including unique training programs, scholarships and support services,” he said. “Our graduates have a 93.1 percent placement rate in their field of study, which shows that employers hire our graduates for their trained workforce.”
Though the school’s most recent graduation rate for all students was a mere 25 percent, according to Education Department data, its military students graduated at a much higher rate of 73 percent.
3. Gwinnett Technical College
Gwinnett Technical College, which has about 8,000 students, recently opened a new 25-acre campus in Alpharetta, Georgia, in addition to its main campus in Lawrenceville. The school offers more than 140 associate degree, diploma and certificate programs, as well as hundreds of seminars, workshops and courses that provide specialized training, according to information provided by the school.
Student support was the school’s highest-ranked category, followed by cost and financial aid. Tuition costs at Gwinnett are covered by both the military’s tuition assistance benefit and the GI Bill.
Military Times contributor and former reporter Natalie Gross hosts the Spouse Angle podcast. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.