Innovation in education for veterans: USC’s MBV program

As the war in Afghanistan comes to a close it signals the end to one of the longest periods of protracted warfare in American history.  For well over a decade our nation’s young men and women volunteered to serve in time of war, and over two million of them have seen firsthand the face of conflict.

They have learned things that are not taught in any school and gained experiences that could not be garnered in a lifetime spent following a different path.  These veterans, some still in uniform and many more who have already left the service, have tremendous yet unrealized value for the corporate sector.  They are leaders who have matured in austere and often dangerous circumstances as well as being highly trained in their martial specialties.

Despite their experience, veterans have difficulty transitioning from the military to the corporate sector.  Many are daunted because they feel that they must start all over again.  There are many opportunities for them to go back to school, but it can be frustrating for vets because they feel that their experiences are not valued and the time that they spent serving our country was wasted.

But things are changing.

Leading the charge is the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.  The school recognizes that military professionals have learned so much in their service that it makes sense to not just value such lessons but to also leverage them in an educational context.  In concert with the California Department of Veterans Affairs, alumni, and veterans, USC has developed the Master of Business for Veterans (MBV) degree program.

The MBV is specifically designed to build upon the experience that veterans have gained in their military careers by adding coursework in areas such as finance, accounting, statistics, strategy, marketing, entrepreneurship, business leadership and communication and others that are consistent with traditional MBA programs.    Class sessions meet Fridays and Saturdays over two semesters with minimal interruption to the careers of working professionals. The MBV degree program is constructed of lectures, projects and course work that are delivered via distant learning, with significant projects and course work being primarily completed during the 16 residential sessions.

It is a graduate level program, and as with all programs at that level there are prerequisites for enrollment.  In a nutshell, they are a minimum 3 – 5 years of active and honorable service in the military, a bachelor’s or equivalent degree, two letters of recommendation, and they must complete and submit two essays for the review of the matriculation panel.  Standardized test scores such as the GMAT or GRE are not required, but a good set of scores would certainly help.

The program is an innovative response to the growth in active duty military and veteran communities.  Not simply a mashup of the traditional MBA curriculum, the program is an integrated educational experience that focuses tightly in leveraging the skills of military people to ensure its success.  Class cohorts are small, in the 20 – 40 student range, and the entire class will consist of those who meet the military service requirements.  Like the military, it is both demanding and fast paced.  The course is completed in half the time of a normal resident MBA program, with classes starting in the fall of the academic year and graduation coming the following summer.

Active duty and veterans can take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill to help defray the cost.  Students will learn from world class professors in a world class educational environment, and in the end both the veterans and the corporate sector will benefit from USC’s leadership in educational innovation.

James Ellis, the dean of the USC Marshall School of Business, says it best,   “This is an important program for Marshall, serving a population that has provided outstanding service to our country while creating valuable leaders and managers for the corporate community.”  My hope is that Dean Ellis’s vision spurs other top-notch schools to create programs like the MBV for graduate, undergraduate, and continuing education.

For more information about the program and the admissions process, please go or contact the program office at or 213.740.8990.


The GI Bill

As I wrote in my last post I am pursuing my MBA at the University of Southern California’s Marshall Business School, and I truly appreciate all of you who helped out with my research project.  Getting an education is expensive these days, and fortunately for me, and for all honorably discharged veterans, the VA is there to help out with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the GI Bill, here is a quick rundown of how it came about and evolved into what it has become today:

The GI Bill originated with the end of the Second World War.  In 1944 the U. S. Government passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act.  Apparently calling the new law by its formal name was a mouthful, so it quickly became named after the people it was designed to help- the GIs returning from the war (GI was slang for anyone in uniform, coming from the term “Government Issue” or “Galvanized Iron”, depending on which story you believe).  Anyhow, the veterans coming home from Europe and the Pacific were able to take advantage of a wide array of benefits which included home, small business, and farm loans, unemployment compensation, and educational benefits.  As a result of the program a staggering sum of nearly 8,000,000 veterans (almost half of all who served during the war) pursued higher education.

Over the following decades GIs went to war again and again, and as they did the GI Bill was there to help veterans when they came home from places like Korea and Vietnam.  In the 1960s benefits were opened up to veterans who did not serve in war, and over time the GI Bill dwindled until it was a shadow of its former self, essentially offering a small stipend to help defray college expenses.

That changed with 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines serving tour after tour in harm’s way the Congress passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, which quickly became known as the “Post 9/11” or “new” GI Bill.  It focuses primarily on educational benefits for veterans (as shown below, which I adapted  from their website  at

– The GI Bill will pay an eligible veteran’s full tuition & fees directly to the school for all public school in-state students. For those attending private or foreign schools tuition & fees are capped at $17,500 per academic year.  For those attending a more expensive private school or a public school as a non-resident out-of-state student, a program exists which may help to reimburse the difference (the “Yellow Ribbon” program).

-For those attending classes at the greater than ½ time rate, a monthly housing allowance (MHA) based on the Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with dependents at the location of the school. For those enrolled solely in distance learning the housing allowance payable is equal to ½ the national average BAH for an E-5 with dependents ($673.44 for the 2011 academic year & $684.00 for the 2012 academic year)

-An annual books & supplies stipend of $1,000 paid proportionately based on enrollment.

-A one-time rural benefit payment for eligible individuals.

As you can see, the new GI Bill is pretty generous.  Not everyone is eligible, however.  In order to take advantage of the benefits the veteran must meet the following criteria:

-You must have served at least 90 aggregate days on active duty after September 10, 2001, and you are still on active duty or were honorably discharged from the active duty; or
– released from active duty and placed on the retired list or temporary disability retired list; or
– released from active duty and transferred to the Fleet Reserve or Fleet Marine Corps Reserve; or
– released from the active duty for further service in a reserve component of the Armed Forces.
You may also be eligible if you were honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability and you served 30 continuous days after September 10,2001.

In my case, I was originally eligible for what was known as the Montgomery GI Bill when I enlisted back in the early 1980s.  I used it to help pay for tuition and fees for my undergraduate work, and I received payments of about $150 a month or so, depending on how many credits I was signed up for.  Now that I have transitioned out of uniform I am eligible for the new GI Bill, but there is a catch.

Of course!

There is always a catch.  It turns out that veterans are only allowed to take advantage of GI Bill benefits for a total of 48 monthly periods.  If you are in school for a full year, then you use 12 months of benefits.  If you take summers off, you use up nine months.  In my case, I used up 45 months of my benefits while I was enlisted, and that didn’t leave much for me to use after I got out!

Fortunately, the new GI Bill recognizes that there are a lot of us in that position.  The VA authorizes an additional year (12 months of benefits) for vets like me who used up a lot of their alloted time.  For me, the fifteen or so months works out pretty well because my program is nineteen months long.  Fortunately I had been saving some money to prepare for my post-military education –  otherwise I would have been out of luck.

So the GI Bill is a tremendous benefit for veterans who are eligible.  I highly encourage any separating or retiring servicemember to look into it, and to do so soon.  It is an expensive proposition for the government to pay for such a generous program, and it probably won’t last forever…


1.  As with any VA program you must register for benefits.  Go to and complete the VONAPP (Veterans On Line Application) in order to get started.  You can complete the paperwork at any time, so get started as soon as you can in order to draw benefits as soon as you start school.

2.  There are different rules for public and private schools.  Basically, the VA will pay up to the highest state school rate for the state you attend college, but for private schools there is a cap on tuition and fees.  Make sure to surf the VA GI Bill website to find out what pertains to your situation.

3.  A great benefit is the housing allowance that you receive while attending school.  It only pays while you are in class (no spring break or summer payments) and it is also not allowed it you are still on active duty.  It may be to your advantage to start your education after you get off terminal leave if you want to receive the full benefits available.

Looking for a little help with some research….

As you know I am working through my transition from active duty life on the other side.  What you may not know is that I am taking advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill in order to pursue an MBA from the University of Southern California’s Marshall Business School.  One of the many things that I am working on is a term paper on organizational culture; specifically, how does the Marine Corps successfully imbue the culture of the Corps into newly minted Marines?  How is the recruit training process so very effective in transforming civilians into Marines?

This is where you come in – if you are a graduate of Marine Corps recruit training, that is.  If you earned the title of United States Marine at MCRD San Diego or MCRD Parris Island I would very humbly like to ask if you would be kind enough to take a survey about recruit training.  I am garnering data to support my paper, and there is nobody more qualified to talk about how Recruits become Marines than those who suffered the terrors of the yellow footprints and the joy of graduation day.

So if you would be so kind to do so, follow this link and take the survey.  It is anonymous, and you would truly be helping a fellow Marine (albeit a retired one) out!  Thanks!

Semper Fidelis!