What Should Veterans Think About as They Contemplate a College Education?
By SOC Staff
In 1944, the creation of the first GI Bill forever changed the way servicemembers viewed civilian postsecondary education. The Military Services quickly provided another option for young people who were interested in attending college, but might otherwise have been unable to afford the associated costs.
Most of you initially came into the military searching for education and training, attracted by promises of generous education benefits aimed at encouraging bright, ambitious, college-capable young people to enlist in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard. In the years since 1985, a large number of you applied for Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits. Over the last 20 years, the military services have enhanced the education benefits and incentives offered to new enlistees and current servicemembers interested in pursuing a college degree in their off duty hours. Today, there are many varied sources of federal and civilian education funding for servicemembers.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education, books, and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service on or after September 11, 2001, or those discharged with a Service-connected disability after 30 days. The amount of education benefits that an individual qualifies for depends on how long they were on active duty, the geographical location of the institution in which they enroll (for purposes of housing allowance calculations), and what type of degree they are pursuing. Information on all GI Bill and other education and training benefits, along with an assortment of education tools and resources may be found at http://www.gibill.va.gov/.
What is the best advice that anyone can give you as a veteran seeking educational opportunities?
Examine your GI Bill eligibility among the various programs on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Web site at http://www.gibill.va.gov/. Receive your certificate of eligibility from the Department of Veterans Affairs or visit with the VA Certifying Official at the college or university that you wish to attend and determine what options are open to you. Then establish your eligibility!
If you don't have the capability to apply for GI Bill eligibility online, you can call 1-888-GI-BILL-1 (1-888-442-4551) to have a form mailed to you. You may also receive an application form at the school or training establishment you wish to attend. The VA Certifying official at the school (usually located in the Registrar's or Financial Aid office) should have the forms available, can assist you in filling them out, and will submit them to the VA.
Now is the time to apply for your benefits and go to college!
Military transcripts that recommend academic credits for learning achieved through military training and experience are available for servicemembers and veterans. The Joint Services Transcript (JST) is an official education transcript tool for documenting the recommended American Council on Education (ACE) college credits for a variety of professional military education, training courses, and occupational experience of servicemembers across the Services. The JST replaces the Army/ACE Registry Transcript System (AARTS), the Sailor/Marine ACE Registry Transcript System (SMART), and the Coast Guard Institute (CGI) transcript. JST is an academically accepted document approved by the American Council on Education (ACE) to validate a service member's military occupational experience and training along with the corresponding ACE college credit recommendations. Note: The Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) is a regionally accredited institution that offers its own transcripts. For a CCAF transcript, Air Force personnel should visit www.au.af.mil/au/ccaf/transcripts.asp.
If you are unfamiliar with the JST, view the video at http://jointservicetranscript.com/. To register or request a transcript, visit https://jst.doded.mil/official.html. Frequently Asked Questions may be found at https://jst.doded.mil/faq.html.
Help is available!
Talk with a Veterans’ Counselor at your college, preferably the college’s VA Certifying Official. If you are serving on or near a military installation, visit the installation's Education Center to talk with a counselor or education specialist. Contact the registrar or an admissions counselor at your college or university. Read the college catalog (most are available online) — if you have questions, arrange an appointment with a college counselor. If you need further information about Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, or about SOC’s Degree Network System (DNS) Bachelor and Associate Degree Programs, call SOC toll-free at 1-800-368-5622, or 202-667-0079 in the Washington Metropolitan Area; write to Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, 1307 New York Avenue, NW, Fifth Floor, Washington, DC 20005-4701; or e-mail SOC at email@example.com. You may also visit SOC's Web site at http://www.soc.aascu.org/.
You probably have some questions about whether or how college credits earned while on active duty can be used. Consider the following:
Will the college credits I earned on active duty transfer to the local community college or university?
Only your local college or university can tell you if college credits earned while you were on active duty will transfer into any of its degree programs. If you have completed the residency requirements with a DNS home college that issued you a Student Agreement, it is usually best to complete your degree with that college. Always check with the home college from which you expect to receive the degree. All of them will require that you receive advanced approval for courses taken at a college that are not in the SOC Degree Network System Transferability Tables. With a Student Agreement, continuing your college work can be greatly simplified as you make the transition from military to civilian life.
Will the local college award credits based on my military service school courses and military experience on the job?
Whether or not an academic institution accepts the credit recommendations for military training and experience made by the American Council on Education (ACE) depends on its policies and procedures for transfer credit, your program of study, and your degree requirements. Your local college may award credit for your military service school courses, as appropriate to your degree program, based on recommended credit(s) in the ACE Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Service that appear on your Joint Services Transcript. It may also award credit for your military job experience (MOSs, Rates and Ratings) listed in the same Guide. Transcripts will only be delivered electronically to the institution(s) you that you have requested from your JST account.
While on active duty, I had a “Student Agreement” with a SOC Degree Network System (DNS) institution. Is this agreement still valid; can I still use it?
In many cases your DNS Student Agreement is still valid, and you may use it to complete your degree requirements. Be sure to complete all the academic residency requirements of your “home college.” Some colleges have a time limit on degree completions. Be sure to check with your “home college” to ensure that you understand the requirements and limits regarding your Student Agreement. Be informed, not surprised!
I'm in the National Guard. How do I start the process if I want to attend college?
If you are in the National Guard, you probably are attending college in your community, and you don't often change your duty station. In addition to the GI Bill programs, you may also be eligible to receive Tuition Assistance (TA) through GoArmyEd, assistance from state-funded programs where they are available, and other federal and private sources of funding. Each of the 50 states and four territories has an education office staffed by an Education Services Officer who is available to assist you with your education questions. Their contact information may be found at http://www.nationalguard.com/tools/state-education-programs. Select your state from the drop down menu. Other education services and programs for National Guard Soldiers and their family members may be found at http://www.nationalguard.com/education.
How do I know if my school is approved to receive Tuition Assistance?
Institutions with an approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Defense (DOD) are listed among the Participating Institutions on the DOD MOU Website. Those institutions have agreed to the terms of the MOU and are approved to receive Tuition Assistance. Visit http://www.dodmou.com/ and click on “Participating Institutions” to find your institution.
Where can I go for help?
If you are not completing a degree program documented by a SOC DNS Student Agreement, remember to ask for an official evaluation of all your prior learning. This evaluation should include a full review of (1) all your military training and experience (on your JST), (2) your Community College of the Air Force transcript if you are an airman; (3) all your past college work based on official transcripts from the college(s) you attended; and (4) all your educational testing. While an official evaluation is not a degree plan, it will show all credits that may be awarded based on the evaluation of prior learning, as it applies to your degree plan, and a full understanding of what courses and credits remain to complete your degree requirements. Credits awarded by your college for prior learning along with credits transferred in from other colleges you attended should be well documented, usually on an official transcript.
In summary, maximize the education benefits you have earned for your service in the military. If you need assistance, there are multiple resources at your disposal. You may be closer to a degree than you think!!
Education opens many doors to employment and provides a foundation for the rest of your life. Start today!!