Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was implemented in August 2009, colleges and universities have experienced an influx of veterans and their family members eager to use the expanded educational benefits.
At least 773,000 veterans and their loved ones have taken advantage of the bill, which provides tuition and housing assistance to eligible veterans and their family members, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
As more veterans return to school, they are looking for high-quality colleges and universities that fit their needs. To help them in their search, U.S. News has launched its inaugural Best Colleges for Veterans rankings.
The 234 schools in the new list scored well in terms of graduation rate, faculty resources, reputation and other markers of academic quality measured in the 2014 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges.
To qualify for the new rankings, the schools also had to be certified for the GI Bill and participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, two federal initiatives that help veterans reduce the cost of school.
Finally, the schools were required to be members of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium, a group that works to simplify credit transfers and give veterans credit for military training and national tests such as the College-Level Examination Program.
The new rankings include 10 separate categories: National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities (North, South, Midwest and West) and Regional Colleges (North, South, Midwest and West).
The data on veteran benefits was collected as part of a broader survey of undergraduate schools by U.S. News in spring 2013. All Unranked or Rank Not Published schools in the 2014 Best Colleges rankings were excluded from the Best Colleges for Veterans rankings.
[Find out why U.S. News produces separate rankings for veterans.]
Among National Universities, Pennsylvania State University--University Park placed No. 1, followed by Tulane University in New Orleans and the University of Texas--Austin, which tied at No. 2.
Penn State has more than 900 veterans at its University Park location, according to Brian Clark, director of the office of veterans programs. He says improving the higher education experience for veterans has long been a top priority for the university.
"If we as a nation are going to lean so heavily on these few people and ask them to risk their lives to defend us, the least we owe them is a new life after the service and the chance to support themselves and pursue the life they choose," he says.
New York's Ithaca College, Florida's Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Drake University in Iowa and the University of Redlands in California are ranked at the top in their respective Regional Universities category.
[Learn how to transfer military skills to a college major.]
Among Regional Colleges, Pennsylvania's Seton Hill University, West Virginia's Wheeling Jesuit University, Dordt College in Iowa and Texas Lutheran University all earned first place in their respective regions.
Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania topped the list for National Liberal Arts Colleges, followed by Oregon's Lewis & Clark College and Michigan's Hillsdale College.
Matt Stahl, a 25-year-old Marine Corps veteran and junior at Muhlenberg, said he chose the school because its participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program made his education affordable.
So far, he says, he's been impressed by the school's efforts to improve the college experience for veterans.
"I think it's important for the school to focus on because of what all the veterans have given," he says. "They can't provide an education for the ones who have given the ultimate sacrifice - their life - but for the ones who were lucky not to go that far, it's very important. In today's job market you are going to need some sort of degree."
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