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Like many college-educated veterans, neither Mike Sanchez nor Harold Penson planned to attend graduate school when they entered the military. Both considered making the military a career, Sanchez on a US Navy nuclear submarine and Penson as a Green Beret and US Army Special Forces Team Leader. Both spent longer than the requisite four-year stint; Penson was deployed to Afghanistan four times.

“If I did think about grad school, it wouldn’t have been an MBA. I thought I was through with the private sector,” said Penson, a Full-Time MBA student who worked in financial services before enlisting.

After a year as an officer on the USS Seawolf, the nation’s—and, according to Sanchez, the world’s—fastest, quietest, and most powerful attack submarine, Sanchez felt that he had accomplished what he joined the military to do. Business school, then, became “a natural next step,” he said. “I firmly believe that business drives innovation, prosperity, and policy in society. I wanted to gain the necessary knowledge and tools to be a part of that action.” 

The Yellow Ribbon Program made graduate school and an MBA at Booth a compelling career move for both men. “Having the Yellow Ribbon scholarship vastly increases the return on investment of every veteran MBA student relative to our nonveteran peers,” said Sanchez, also a Full-Time MBA student. “From a financial perspective, it made the decision to attend Booth even more logical.”

Starting in Fall 2018, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business will double its agreed-upon Yellow Ribbon Program contribution. As a result, qualifying veterans enrolled in the Full-Time MBA Program will have 100 percent of their tuition and fees covered by the program, part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This is an expansion of Booth’s participation in the program, which has been in place at the school since the revised bill passed in 2008

Students enrolled in Booth’s part-time programs will also benefit. Based on the current contributions from the GI Bill, students in the Evening and Weekend MBA Programs can receive up to $82,805 per academic year. Based on a how a student structures his or her course load, 100 percent of tuition and fees could be paid. For Executive MBA students, Booth's expansion of the program means that roughly 90 of tuition and fees will be covered.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, widely known as the GI Bill, paid for the education of the Greatest Generation. In 1947, 49 percent of people admitted to college were veterans, many of them the first in their families to attend. Come 2008, it was time for a rewrite to address a new generation of better-educated veterans and a vastly changed world. The Veterans Education Assistance Act, as it is formally named, contained the important addition of the Yellow Ribbon Program to help veterans go to graduate school. The original GI Bill covered only undergraduate education.

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Associations (IAVA), which lobbied heavily for passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, more than one million veterans to date have gone to college, both undergraduate and graduate, with money provided by the bill.

Educational institutions can choose to participate in the program and decide how much to provide in tuition assistance. In the early days, Booth capped the amount of money and the number of veterans that could apply. Booth expanded its program in 2011 to cover all qualifying veterans. Now, following an opt-in period from March to May of 2018, qualifying veterans enrolled full time will receive 100 percent of tuition and fees, $30,000 of that from the school to be matched by the Veterans Administration.

To qualify for Yellow Ribbon money, veterans must have served at least 36 months after September 10, 2001. Those honorably discharged from active duty for a service-related disability who served 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001, also qualify. The program covers dependents eligible for Transfer of Entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill as well. Those who attended a service academy or participated in ROTC in college must have served eight years: five to satisfy their active-duty obligation and another 36 months to qualify for Yellow Ribbon money.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is “a wonderful way to give veterans of different socioeconomic means the option to pursue education at [institutions] other than public universities,” Penson said. “These days when we’re looking for diversity of thought, of culture, and backgrounds, if you concentrated all the veterans in the public university system, it wouldn’t really create a good breeding ground for broad-based thinking.”

About half of the veterans who come to Booth qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program. On average eight percent of each class is made up of veterans, not all of them from the US military.

Booth also has an active veterans network of alumni and current students who help with career counseling, resume writing, and interview preparation. Penson spoke to several of them when he was considering which school to attend. “They were all very outgoing and had positive things to say about the program,” he said. “It sounded like the unvarnished truth.”

As an older student, Sanchez liked Booth’s “free-market” mentality with respect to choosing his class schedule and academic pursuits. “At Booth I am free to pursue any and every academic endeavor that interests me,” he said. “Plus the University of Chicago is hands down the best economics school in the world. To become the best you have to learn from the best.”


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