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November 8, 2019

American FlagThe old song about a yellow ribbon tied lovingly around an oak tree celebrates a homecoming, and for military veterans Creighton University offers a homecoming yellow ribbon of its own.

Jennifer Austin, program coordinator in Creighton’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, oversees the University’s participation in the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs’ Yellow Ribbon program, which goes a long way toward funding an undergraduate or graduate degree — in Creighton’s case, in many instances, all the way.

The Yellow Ribbon program reflects Creighton’s ongoing reputation as a military-friendly school. Among the University’s honors are a “Best College” ranking from the Military Times; a “Military Friendly School” designation from militaryfriendly.com; a “Top University” designation from Military Advanced Education and Transition; and a 2019 “Best College for Veterans” designation from U.S. News & World Report.

Created in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Yellow Ribbon program, which is used in conjunction with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, pays military veterans who meet certain requirements up to $24,476.79 in tuition and fees for the current academic year, an amount that typically increases by about $900 for every subsequent academic year for up to a maximum of 36 months.

While that is a significant amount, Creighton wished to make it even easier for military veterans and their families to attend the University and signed on to a provision that sees the VA provide up to an additional $10,000 per academic year if the participating university does the same. Creighton’s commitment to placing up to $10,000 into the pot raised the total educational annual tuition and fees benefit to almost $45,000, just about what an academic year costs at Creighton.

Austin says 219 students are currently enrolled at Creighton under the terms of the Yellow Ribbon program. Of those, 166 are pursuing undergraduate studies, while 53 are pursuing graduate or professional degrees. The School of Pharmacy and Health Professions joined the program this year, adding $5,000 to the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s $24,476.79 annual subsidy, which triggered a matching $5,000 contribution from the VA for a total annual benefit of almost $35,000.

Unlike Creighton’s undergraduate programs, which accept unlimited numbers of Yellow Ribbon-eligible students, the School of Law and the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions limit acceptance to 12 students annually per school.

Austin says “thousands” of veterans have used Yellow Ribbon to attain a Creighton education since the program was signed into law on June 30, 2008. One of the most exciting pieces of the Post-9/11 GI Bill legisilation is veterans and active duty services members who choose not to use the benefit themselves may assign the benefit to their spouse or children to help cover college expenses. We have had many spouses and children use the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon program here at Creighton.

The VA, she says, forbids using Yellow Ribbon beneficiaries to promote a university’s involvement, which is unfortunate because we have so many success stories we’d love to share.

To speak generally, she cited one veteran student, an adult learner, who earned both an undergraduate degree and a law degree, all fully funded by Yellow Ribbon. It was a fit into a perfect puzzle, Austin says, given that the student was eligible for shortened and accelerated programs, but it illustrates how effective Yellow Ribbon can be when properly applied.

Austin says her role is to relieve Yellow Ribbon students of the burden of red tape and paperwork as much as possible, and — once they have applied for the program, which only they can do — to allow them to focus on their studies while she manages ongoing VA requirements.

“They just register for classes,” she says. “I do ask them to pay attention to how much they’re spending over the course of the academic year, but I’ll also alert them because I keep track of how much benefit everybody has left just in case. I don’t want them to be three-fourths into a semester and be out of money.

“Essentially, I manage the paperwork so they can be hands off.”

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