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Top Air Force Education Benefits and Programs

07.14.2023 • 8 min read

Lizann Lightfoot

Editor and Military Spouse

Learn how the Air Force provides multiple education benefits to its members and how Outlier supports the military and Air Force.

In This Article:

  1. Air Force Program and Benefits Overview

  2. 4 Education Benefits for Air Force Members

  3. Outstanding Air Force Educational Programs

  4. The Bottom Line

Did you know the military can pay for your college degree?

Depending on your interests and abilities, your career path, and the choices you make during military service, you can get an associate or a bachelor’s degree without going into debt!

Of course, you’ll want to know about the conditions before signing up for a degree program.

If you joined the military—especially the Air Force—for the education benefits, you’re in the right place.

This information is also useful for:

  • College students considering ROTC programs

  • Enlisted Airmen looking into the military officer ranks

  • Active duty members considering career options after the military

In this article, we’ll explore the Air Force education benefits, scholarships, and programs available to you.

Air Force Program and Benefits Overview

For service members who want to continue their education, all branches of the military offer scholarships and education benefits.

More than any other branch of the military, the Air Force prioritizes education for all its members, both military officers and enlisted ranks.

Not only does the Air Force offer a way for members to turn their active duty military training into college credit, but it also offers several benefits to build a post-military career.

According to a 2020 Department of Defense Demographics Report, the Air Force has the highest number of members with at least a bachelor’s degree—27.7%.

Airmen are also the service members most likely to have an associate degree: 18.5% of Airmen vs. less than 5% among members of the other DoD branches of the military.

These outstanding degree statistics for Airmen are thanks in part to the Air University, one of many educational benefits the Air Force offers. Let’s dive deeper into them now.

4 Education Benefits for Air Force Members

Many options are available for going to college in the Air Force, whether you are active duty in the Air Force Reserves or in the Air National Guard. The best choice for you depends on whether you have already earned college credits and what career you want to pursue after the military.

Service members can use the programs below to earn free college credits or degrees. Air University

Formerly called the Community College of the Air Force, Air University (AU) offers college credits for enlisted, officer, and civilian Airmen.

All enlisted Airmen are automatically enrolled in AU after completing basic training. They can combine on-duty training with off-duty classwork to earn an associate degree in 1 of 5 fields:

  • Aircraft and missile maintenance

  • Electronics and telecommunications

  • Allied health

  • Logistics and resources

  • Public and support services

Professional development, pre-commissioning programs, and master’s degree programs are all available through AU for Air Force officers.

Air Force Academy

Located near Colorado Springs, the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) is the official service academy for commissioning Air Force officers. Applicants must meet physical and academic qualifications, and a member of Congress must nominate them.

After graduation, Air Force cadets receive a bachelor’s degree and become commissioned officers. In exchange for their free college degree, USAFA graduates must serve at least 5 years active duty in the Air Force.

ROTC Scholarships

Similar to the USAFA, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship is financial aid that allows participants to spend 4 years completing a free college degree, and then become commissioned officers.

The main difference is ‌ROTC scholarships can be used at numerous college locations throughout the country, and the minimum service requirement is 4 years instead of five. The ROTC application process is also less demanding than USAFA’s.

Unlike scholarships for online students, the ROTC program is not a traditional scholarship prize.

College Tuition Assistance (TA)

All branches of the military offer some form of Tuition Assistance (TA) to active duty service members. While on active duty, service members can pursue college credits or certifications on their own time, and the military will cover designated costs. It’s entirely possible to complete a degree while remaining active duty—and graduate without student loans!

Air Force Tuition Assistance will cover up to $250 per credit hour or $4,500 per fiscal year. This covers 100% of tuition expenses at colleges like:

  • Golden Gate University Degrees+ program

  • Southern New Hampshire University

  • Pensacola State College

  • Hawaii Pacific University

  • University of Alaska - Fairbanks

  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide Liberty University

Many students use CLEP and DANTES tests to earn college credit for basic prerequisite subjects like English 101. The Air Force reimburses these exam fees. So if you have background knowledge in general subjects, you can use the tests to earn free credits, then apply TA to cover more advanced courses.

You can also use TA benefits to cover tuition costs for graduate degrees and higher education coursework. This is a great financial assistance program for earning a master’s degree while active duty.

Pro Tip: At some colleges, military spouses and dependents qualify for the same low tuition rates offered to service members. Military spouse scholarships are also available.

Outstanding Air Force Educational Programs

Going to college looks different for many Airmen. Numerous options exist for earning a college degree and becoming a military officer, even for those ‌already enlisted active duty.

These unique Air Force college programs help Airmen achieve the degrees that will advance their career.

The Airman Scholarship and Commissioning Program (ASCP)

Active duty enlisted Airmen can receive this scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree and earn a commission as a military officer. Recipients will temporarily separate from the Air Force and join ROTC while a full-time student.

The scholarship covers up to $15,000 in tuition per year and $600 for textbooks. While participating, Airmen will receive an ROTC stipend, but not active duty pay and benefits.

Leaders Encouraging Airman Development Program (LEAD)

This professional development program allows enlisted Airmen—either active duty or Reserve—to attend the Air Force Academy or Academy Prep School. They will earn a degree and be trained as commissioned officers in exchange for cost-free tuition.

Eligibility is limited to enlisted Airmen who are nominated and demonstrate officer potential.

Applicants must:

  • Submit high school grades and test scores

  • Be 17-23 years old, unmarried, and not pregnant

Each year, unit and wing commanders nominate up to 170 enlisted Airmen.

Professional Officer Course-Early Release Program (POC-ERP)

Active duty enlisted students within 2 years of finishing a bachelor’s degree can join this program to become full-time students and—upon graduation—commissioned officers. Graduates must then serve 4 years active duty.

To qualify, Airmen must:

  • Have served at least 1 year

  • Completed at least half of an overseas tour

  • Pass a physical fitness test

  • Be able to commission before turning 30 years old

While service members participate in college classes, they are temporarily considered in the ROTC program and do not receive active duty pay or benefits. They receive a monthly stipend instead.

Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program (NECP)

Because nursing is a high-demand career for the Air Force, this program incentivizes active duty Airmen to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Students will remain active duty and receive military pay, along with up to $15,000 in tuition scholarships and $600 annually for books.

To qualify, Airmen must:

  • Be active duty

  • Rank E-4 or above

  • Have already completed prerequisite courses with a passing GPA

  • Be able to commission before age 42

The program can last up to 3 years. After graduating, becoming certified, and attending Commissioned Officer Training, the student will commission as a military officer.

Yellow Ribbon Program

This program is available to all branches of the military. It allows service members to use their GI Bill tuition benefits—earned during active duty but typically used as a Veteran—at more expensive universities.

Formerly known as the Montgomery GI Bill, but now called the Post 9/11 GI Bill, this military benefit pays 36 months of tuition, including a housing allowance and annual book stipend. But it has a maximum annual allowance.

Schools whose tuition is higher than the GI Bill maximum agree to cover the gap for a select number of Yellow Ribbon scholarship recipients each year. This allows Air Force veterans to take full advantage of their GI Bill benefits without paying out of pocket for a private institution.

To qualify, contact the Veterans Service office at the college of your choice. You may be required to submit an application, including test scores, an essay, or an interview. Prepare your best scholarship essay by reading these tips.

The Bottom Line

If you want the Air Force to pay for college, it’s definitely possible! Now you know the numerous options for going to college in the Air Force, and multiple paths to getting a high degree and joining the ranks of commissioned officers:

  • Air Force Academy

  • Air University

  • Tuition Assistance

  • GI Bill

  • Yellow Ribbon programs.

Finally, you should know that service members can earn an accredited college degree from the Golden Gate University (GGU). The top-ranked online program for military students offers undergraduate programs on 34 U.S. Air Force bases, and now has fully remote options through the Degrees+ program powered by

Get a head start on your degree with college credit for CLEP or DANTES. The program's affordability makes your GI Bill funds go further. Some military students use the GI Bill and Degrees+ program to fully fund an entire degree.

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