Making the Most of Changing Military Education Benefits

wfd_blog_2 A few months ago, the Coast Guard did something that was previously considered unthinkable.  Not only was the annual Tuition Assistance “cap” cut by 50%, “Coasties” also discovered they would have to pay 25% of the tuition for their off-duty classes. And the “revisions” may not end there.  The other branches of the armed forces are reportedly studying the Coast Guard’s lead and may implement similar policies in the near future.

So, how can military members balance their educational goals against shrinking benefit programs? 

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Make a Plan.  Determine your education goals and formulate a plan for achieving them, setting a realistic timetable and utilizing all available benefit programs.

2) Choose Your College Carefully.  Look for an institution that is regionally-accredited and offers degree, certificate and vocational programs that meet your career plans.  Shop around and compare cost, access and quality—then pick the school that’s right for you. Thomas Nelson Community College offers more than 140 degree and certificate programs, with affordable tuition and a well-deserved reputation as a “military friendly” school.

3) Implement Alternate Strategies.  Can’t use TA right now?  Consider tapping into our GI Bill benefits to get a start on your education.  But remember: using your GI Bill while on active duty means fewer months of benefits once you leave the service.  Additionally, some military members qualify for Pell Grants and there are tons of scholarships for active-duty personnel, veterans and dependents.

4) Don’t Forget about CLEP and DANTES credit.  Many institutions allow military students to bring an unlimited amount of CLEP and DANTES credit into a degree program.  These exams are offered at many military installations—at no cost to the service member—and the minimum passing score is well below what’s required in most on-line or in-residence courses.  Study guides are usually available at base libraries, making it even easier to prepare for—and pass—a CLEP or DANTES exam.

5) Ask for a Transcript Evaluation.  A growing number of colleges and universities will provide a preliminary transcript evaluation for prospective students, before they make an enrollment decision.  It’s a great tool for determining the number of transfer hours you’ll receive and how long it will take to finish your degree.

6) Leverage Existing Credits.  Why start from scratch if you can utilize credits previously earned at other schools, from CLEP/DANTES exams, or from your military training and education?  Knowing “where you stand” (before you enroll) will save time and allow you to get the most “bang” for your education benefits.

Finally, a cautionary tale about the hazards of poor educational planning and preparation.  A few years ago, a sailor was medically discharged at Naval Station Norfolk.  During his 13 years in the Navy, he served as a nuclear reactor technician and an intelligence analyst—meaning he graduated from two of the toughest tech schools in the military, and earned plenty of educational credits in the process (his nuclear school credits alone would give him 31 hours in math and science at TNCC). Unfortunately, the sailor decided to return home for college, with his wife and four children in tow.

He was admitted to the University of Missouri, but upon enrollment, the former sailor was stunned to learn that the university would not accept any of his military education and training.  So, at the age of 33, he was forced to start over, using his GI Bill benefits to pay for freshman-level math and science classes, covering material he had mastered years before. Shame on the University of Missouri for rejecting his military credits, but the veteran is also at fault.  With a little research and planning, he could have avoided the academic nightmare in Columbia and made better use of his educational benefits.

Gary Pounder, Director of Military Affairs and Contract Credit with Thomas Nelson Workforce Training & Continuing Education, has a substantial wealth of knowledge in academia and military.

Contact Gary Pounder or the Military Affairs team for all your military education needs.