Greensboro, NC - Guilford Technical Community College student Matthew Faris wanted to go to college, but he didn't have the money. The Post 9/11 GI Bill, which covers tuition, books and living expenses, was his answer. So he joined the Army Reserves.
"Just the chance to get an education without piling all this debt on top of it - that's worth it to me," Faris said.
Matthew is one of more than 773,000 veterans and family members to receive part of $20 billion in Post 9/11 GI benefits so far. But a Government Accountability Office audit reveals the data the VA's collecting on student performance is "outdated or incomplete." That means the VA is not sure if those tax dollars are leading to degrees or jobs after school.
The VA's response to auditors: the main goal is to "provide veterans with benefits", not to be responsible for "academic performance."
"If we don't have real information on the success of military veterans in higher education or the return on investment of the post 9/11 GI Bill, I absolutely see the window closing for this benefit," said Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America.
Dakduk says this information should be tracked so lawmakers won't cut the program.
"Some folks have reported that veterans are dropping out in high rates, I think that has become a common misconception in society today and really it's unknown," he said.
Student Veterans of America is partnering with the VA and the National Student Clearinghouse to start collecting numbers. They expect result by next year. Then we'll find out how many students like Faris are having success in school.
In the meantime several local schools already track GI student performance. UNCG, ECPI and GTCC all say veteran performance is nearly identical to or better than the general student population.
GTCC's numbers show 50 percent of their vet students stay in school after the first year compared to 48 percent of all students.
"They are disciplined. They can do online studies. Or at school. They have the dedication," veteran coordinator Flora Taylor said.