CORVALLIS, Ore. — Thanks to a state grant, Oregon State University’s Ecampus online education program is offering assistance to some military veterans in Oregon who learn online but receive significantly less GI Bill housing support than students enrolled in on-campus instruction.
The new funding will support military veteran students studying online at OSU in fields related to technology, health care or manufacturing. The workforce development grant is from the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
The support is part of $10 million in HECC funding for more than 80 organizations statewide to encourage innovative education programs and remove barriers to job training and education for historically underserved and marginalized populations.
In Oregon, a full-time student who receives Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and who takes at least one class on a physical university or college campus receives $1,932 as a monthly housing allowance. Meanwhile, a full-time student who takes 100% of their classes online receives a monthly housing allowance of $917 – a difference of $1,015.
“This discrepancy is rooted in the misconception that students who learn online have less financial need than those who learn on campus,” said Shannon Riggs, Ecampus executive director of academic programs and learning innovation. “In 2021-22, 48% of Ecampus undergraduate students were deemed to have ‘high financial need’ compared to 29% of Oregon State’s on-campus students.
“The aim of this new program is not to compare which student population needs assistance more,” Riggs said. “The goal is to help address student needs regardless of whether they learn online or on a campus.”
Meanwhile, Riggs said OSU is working to help lawmakers recognize the need to address the GI Bill’s inconsistency and better serve all students.
“Veterans have earned the same benefit, and to reduce it because they either need or prefer to study online, it doesn’t make sense,” said Riggs, who belongs to a military family. “This is a benefit they have already earned. It’s a promise this country has made, and I think we need to fulfill that promise.”
Riggs said many adult learners have life commitments such as full-time work, caring for family members or living far from a college campus that make it impractical to attend classes in person.
“I never expected to go to school online until I separated from the military as an experienced adult with typical life responsibilities,” said Phoenix Ramos, an Ecampus horticulture student and Air Force veteran. “I think a common misconception is that because I go to school online I can be less dedicated to my (class) work, and that's not the case at all. I take the same amount of credits that in-person, full-time students do, and I put in just as much dedication.”
The HECC grants are designed to offer financial support for people pursuing careers in the high-demand fields of technology, health care and manufacturing. Oregon State offers a variety of degrees and programs online in those three disciplines at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The HECC will launch a second round of grant opportunities in coming months, and Ecampus plans to apply for additional funds.
Any changes made to the GI Bill and monthly housing allowance would need to occur at the federal level. To help raise awareness, Riggs and Ecampus Associate Provost Lisa L. Templeton have met with staff members of Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. Riggs also was part of a panel presentation on the topic last month at a conference for college and military educators in New York City.
“For student veterans, earning a degree is their new mission,” said Willie Elfering, director of Oregon State’s Military and Veteran Resource Center and a retired Army command sergeant major.
“Giving the online student the same opportunity that we give an on-campus student — the opportunity to focus on the goal of accomplishing their mission and completing their degree — is the right thing to do. Receiving the full GI Bill housing allowance can make a huge difference.”
About Oregon State Ecampus: As a leader in online education, Oregon State Ecampus provides access to exceptional learning experiences that transform the lives of students in Oregon and around the world. OSU Ecampus delivers more than 80 bachelor’s and graduate programs and over1,500 classes online and in a hybrid format. Learn more about Oregon State degrees online at ecampus.oregonstate.edu.