The Academic Road From Military to Management

Nearly 2,000,000 service members have been deployed under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) since 2001. These service members are now returning from active duty in search of homes, jobs, and an education. As a result, colleges and universities are working harder than ever to meet veterans’ postsecondary education needs. Some colleges have made great improvements in supporting veteran and active service members since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was implemented in 2009, while others still have a long way to go. Therefore, it is important for service men and women to do their homework when choosing a college that will best meet their needs.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill Defined
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), “the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. You must have received an honorable discharge to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.” Some of the numerous benefits offered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill include up to 100 percent tuition and fee coverage, a monthly living (housing) stipend, up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies, a one-time relocation allowance, and the option to transfer benefits to family members.

Challenges Presented by the Post-9/11 GI Bill
The implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill created many challenges for the VA. According to a 2011 report by the RAND Corporation and the Lumina Foundation for Education on behalf of the American Council on Education, issues with the Post-9/11 GI Bill included delayed or erroneous processing and payment of claims, which is hoped to improve as the VA modernizes its claims system infrastructure. These complications are attributable to the complexity of this version of the GI Bill compared to previous versions, such as the 1984 iteration known as the Montgomery GI Bill. According to RAND’s report, “Unlike benefits offered under the existing Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits vary according to the student’s state and institutional location and involve payments not only to students but also to institutions. Consequently, they are more complex to administer than MGIB benefits.”

While the VA is making strides to improve its claims processing infrastructure, colleges and universities are also working to adapt to the changes presented by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The administrative burden of monitoring GI benefits has caused college administrators to report a workload increase of 50 to 200 percent since the bill was implemented, according to the RAND study. Reasons for increased workload were cited as: (1) managing a 35 to 100 percent increase in total GI Bill enrollments, (2) familiarizing staff with new benefit details and a new certification software system, (3) working with the student accounts office to ensure that the institution received the correct tuition payments and to troubleshoot payment errors with the VA, (4) resubmitting enrollment verifications to the VA each time a student added or dropped a course, and (5) assisting students in understanding their benefit options. In order to manage the increased workload, colleges have added staff and rely on VA work-study students when possible. Some schools have also applied for grant money to fund additional veteran-related staff positions.

Maximizing Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits
For many military students, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the main reason for beginning or continuing their postsecondary education. To receive the maximum benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veteran and active service members must select a college that understands the challenges presented by the Bill and has the expertise to manage the benefits it offers. For example, a qualified college will help military students utilize programs like the Yellow Ribbon Program. This program is a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that is designed to help students avoid up to 100 percent of the out-of-pocket tuition and fees that may exceed GI Bill tuition benefits. A military-friendly college will help veteran and active service members receive additional funds through this provision without additional charges to the student’s entitlement. By helping military students navigate processes and utilize benefits like the Yellow Ribbon Program, schools can streamline the administrative aspects of degree programs for these students.
 
Military-Friendly Colleges Offer Supplemental Programs
In addition to assisting military students with understanding and leveraging the Post-9/11 GI Bill and its provisions, colleges should provide additional accommodations for veteran and active service members. Military-friendly colleges will accept College Level Examination Programs (CLEP) and/or DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST) exams for credit, and many will accept military training and experience for credit through the American Council on Education (ACE). Colleges may also offer military students benefits such as tuition discounts; in-state tuition without residency requirements; fee-waived applications; flexible schedules through evening, weekend, and online courses; and reenrollment without penalty for military students who are called to active duty.

Furthermore, military-friendly colleges are often part of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Degree Network System, an organization that works to provide educational opportunities to military students who, because of frequent relocation, have difficulty completing their college degrees (according to www.soc.aascu.org). These colleges may also participate in the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA), a program that provides up to $4,000 (over two years) of financial assistance for military spouses pursuing degree programs, licenses, or credentials that lead to employment in portable career fields (according to Military.com). On-campus or cross-town programs can make Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (ROTC) available, as well. The provision of these benefits clearly demonstrates a college or university’s commitment to military students.

Relevant Degree Options and Career Placement Support
Relevant degree options are increasingly important to veteran and active service members. Therefore, colleges looking to cater to these individuals should offer two- and four-year degree options in areas such as management, leadership, and public administration. Additionally, these degree options should be made available on a flexible schedule through day, night, and online courses. Colleges that understand the difference between traditional day students and military students will make allowances and build curriculums around the desires and needs of their veteran and active duty service members.

Career placement is one of the most important aspects of a military student’s education. The transition from academic to civilian life is as critical to military students as the transition from military to student life. Colleges must acknowledge this process and provide the necessary support through internship opportunities, access to career counselors, and a network of military-friendly employers.

Colleges should also have experienced veteran advisors and counselors on staff who can help liaise with local Vet Reps for career placement. By leveraging their business and community connections, military-friendly colleges can effectively make the transition for military students into the workforce as seamless as possible.

On-Campus Resources Provide Pertinent Information
Military-friendly colleges offer on-campus resources to make learning about and utilizing Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits as easy as possible for veteran and active duty service members. As stated in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, “The vast array of funding possibilities illuminates the need for institutions to have a point person or office that can work with service member complexities.” It is advised that military students seek out this individual or office to learn about the benefits available in order to maximize their college experience.
 
Dr. Thomas M. McGovern, president of Fisher College in Boston and veteran Army service member, may be reached at 617/236-8800 or tmcgovern@Fisher.edu.

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