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Oregon State Ecampus director working to update GI Bill to benefit online students

A U.S. Navy military uniform with badges and patches on the breast and sleeves.

Shannon Riggs, WCET colleagues in New York to discuss bill’s limitations when serving veterans who learn solely online

Jan. 23, 2023

The GI Bill is in need of an update to better serve all college students, and Shannon Riggs, an executive director at Oregon State University Ecampus, is co-presenting at a national conference this week to further raise awareness about the bill’s current shortcomings.

Riggs is the executive director of academic programs and learning innovation for Oregon State Ecampus. Alongside fellow panelists Russ Poulin and Cheryl Dowd, she will explain at the Council of College and Military Educators (CCME) annual symposium how military veterans who learn exclusively online receive significantly less in GI Bill housing allowance than their on-campus counterparts.

Poulin is the executive director of the WCET-WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, and Dowd is the senior director of the State Authorization Network and WCET Policy Innovations.

In a recent op-ed for The Progressive Magazine, Riggs explained the issue at hand:

GI Bill benefits include a Monthly Housing Allowance based on the college’s zip code. Students are allotted more funding in cities and towns where housing is more expensive, and less where housing is less costly. When veterans pursue degrees online, however, the housing allowance is reduced to half the national average, regardless of location or housing costs.  

Attendees of the CCME panel presentation will learn the history of veterans access to the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) when using GI Bill education benefits. The history will inform a discussion about the impact and limitations when serving veterans who participate in educational programs solely from a distance.

Looking to the future, the panelists and attendees will consider whether there is a need for a revision, and if so, how and to whom should veterans and institutions advocate for a change.

Shannon Riggs, executive director of academic programs and learning innovation, OSU Ecampus

In Oregon, a full-time student who receives Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and takes 100% of their courses online receives $917 in Monthly Housing Allowance. By comparison, a full-time classmate who takes at least one class on a physical campus receives $1,932.

That’s a discrepancy of $1,015 each month — a life-changing amount of money for many veterans. The funding gap is even wider in other parts of the country.

“These veterans have earned this 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.

“Our presentation is a call to update the GI Bill to create Monthly Housing Allowance distribution that is more equitable for all modalities of education.”

Riggs and other members of Oregon State Ecampus leadership are making additional efforts to alleviate the financial shortage for online students, including applying for grant funding and meeting with state and federal lawmakers.

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