When you ask a recent Veteran about their education plans, they often respond in the future tense. For a variety of reasons, many defer their education goals to some point in the future, when they can better balance the demands of family, career, and school, and take advantage of more generous benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
I can understand that calculus. You see, I had the same plan 30 years ago. Having already earned my bachelor’s, the plan was to stay in the Air Force long enough to earn money for graduate school, then return to civilian life (and a master’s program).
But life interrupted my plans. In short order, I got married, started a family and earned my commission through Officer Training School. Suddenly, my one hitch was looking like an Air Force career, and graduate school was a necessity, not something that could be deferred.
So, at the ripe old age of 30, I began working on a master’s degree, in a weekend-intensive program offered on my base. Despite my misgivings, I made it through, earning a graduate degree that greatly enhanced my military and civilian careers.
Three decades later, a new generation of Veterans is making the same journey. In some respects, they face even greater challenges; during their time in uniform, deployments were routine, and when they weren’t “down range,” they were training for the next rotation; trying to reconnect with family and friends, or looking for a little well-deserved rest and recreation. Against that backdrop, it’s easy to delay your education.
But an active-duty military member shouldn’t be an inactive student. Fact is, members of today’s military have more education options than ever. With on-line programs, offered by hundreds of colleges and universities, service members can work on their degrees at home station or in the war zone, and the list of available degrees and courses is almost endless.
And there are many more reasons for a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or “Coastie” to continue their education on active duty. For starters, there are credits for military education and training, which can be applied to civilian degree programs. Members of the armed forces begin earning those credits in basic training and they continue throughout their military career. I know one military policeman who began his studies with 60 hours of college credit, thanks to his civilian and military law enforcement training. Many institutions, including Southern New Hampshire University, offer no-obligation transcript evaluations for service members, providing a clear picture of “where they stand” before they sign up for classes.
Secondly, most active duty personnel can utilize not one, but two, education benefits programs, tuition assistance (TA) and various versions of the GI Bill. Utilizing these benefits, many career NCOs can earn a bachelor’s and a master’s while on active service—with minimum of-of-pocket expenses–and still transfer part of their GI Bill to a family member. It’s a golden opportunity that most of our civilian counterparts simply can’t imagine.
Still, there are some military personnel who find it impossible to work on their education while on active duty. Many are assigned to “low density/high demand” specialties, and are deployed even more frequently than other service members. But even the busiest soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or “Coastie” can prepare for school by having their transcripts evaluated, taking CLEP or DANTES exams to earn additional credits, and contacting schools they’d like to attend. A little preparation now can save Veterans a lot of time and money later on.
But for many members of the armed forces, it is possible to be a successful active-duty student, even in this era of long deployments and endless conflicts. You can balance the demands of being a military member and your educational pursuits; all it takes is persistence, time management, and a desire to succeed. If you don’t believe me, ask the Army Reserve Staff Sergeant from New Hampshire who completed six classes during a deployment to Iraq. Or the Army psychological operations specialist that finished seven courses towards her marketing degree during a combat rotation in Afghanistan. Or the Navy Chief Petty Officer that’s working towards a Master of Fine Arts degree, despite the demands of 12-hour shifts at a national intelligence agency.
Their examples—and countless others—prove that active-duty military members can be active students. With today’s education benefits—and a plethora of schools, degree choices and delivery methods—there is no reason to postpone your education.
Gary Pounder, Major, USAF (Ret) is the Director of Military Initiatives at Southern New Hampshire University.