Overcoming barriers to continuing education for veterans begins with finding a school which is truly veteran-friendly. This is one aspect prior military service students may overlook when enrolling in higher education programs offered by universities, colleges, or technical schools. This caution is based on the fact some schools advertising themselves as service friendly, in actuality are not. This is due to the reality that there is no clear definition of this service.
When enrolling in a school, after military service, awareness of common barriers starts with knowledge of these obstacles and how to prevail over them. There are specific characteristics of veteran-friendly schools which require consideration prior to enrolling. These include offering programs specifically designed orientation, support groups, and dedicated resource centers.
Military College Credit: Maximizing Credit for Service
One barrier many veterans encounter is obtaining maximum credit for military service. This often occurs through miscommunication or misperception by the school and prior service member. This is also where it is important to be realistic; all the while, ensuring maximum credit is given.
Most veterans experienced extensive training during their military career. These experiences need clear documentation for evaluation by college admissions counselors. These documents are available at military education services office, located on most military installations. These offices provide assistance in identifying equivalent college credit for completed service training and experience.
Assistance is also available from on-campus veteran resource centers and support groups. Identifying schools which provide one-on-one evaluation of credit services with qualified counselors and advisers is essential to this process. Their knowledge and support is invaluable when making recommendations for credit acceptance to the dean of a program in which enrolling.
The realities many prior military members need to consider include:
Sorting through transcripts from several schools for transfer credit, due to the military’s mobile lifestyle, often identifies credits which are not transferable.
Most higher education schools have limits on number transfer credits they allow from other schools, including military credit.
Pursuing a degree unrelated to a military experience offers few opportunities for credit transfer.
Some experience and training are not transferrable.
There is a risk of too many credits being accepted by a school. This may lead to weak college transcripts when applying for competitive jobs or graduate schools.
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Diversity Issues in Education: Consideration for Prior Knowledge and Experiences
Success in overcoming barriers to continuing education requires consideration of how the military is viewed at a potential school. Word of mouth is an important component for determining barriers which may exist within a school. How current or prior service members are treated travels fast among veteran groups, education support offices on bases, and education fairs.
The last thing a prior service member wants is being treated differently than traditional college students. This leads to a feeling of isolation, along with a waste of time and benefits on unnecessary courses. Truly veteran friendly schools provide the same level of opportunity and assistance offered to any incoming freshman or new student.
These schools also provide women veterans with additional assistance, because they often encounter barriers different from their male counterparts. These obstacles include the possibility of being a single parent and treatment different than other female students by faculty, staff, and other students. Women should inquire into availability of cohort classes or support groups designed specifically for them. This also includes openness of on campus organizations to their participation.
Financial Assistance: Navigating an Often Complex System
Navigating the Post-9/11 GI Bill is a barrier which must be overcome by all veteran students seeking continuing education. This begins with ensuring the school’s financial aid office assists students with overcoming the paper work maze often encountered. Do-it-yourself schools need to be avoided. Issues which need focused support include:
- military tuition assistance for those on active duty
- civilian employer tuition assistance
- federal benefits such as a Stafford Loan
- state grants and loans
- distance education requirements and limitations
- assistance in meeting the 36 month degree completion requirement
- participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program for private and graduate schools
Other programs offered by university, college, or technical schools requiring consideration include assistance with resume writing, interview skills, and job search assistance. These are essential services, because veterans are often inexperienced and surprised by the amount work involved in finding employment after completing their degree. Also, this support is critical for helping prior military service students with how to apply their military training and experience to potential businesses or industries.
As military service members transition their way into higher education to continue their education, they bring new ideas and life experiences to a school’s campus. They also encounter barriers unique to their situation. These barriers include a strong disconnection from faculty, staff, and other students. Finding a truly veteran friendly school is crucial to overcoming these barriers for continuing education success and successful post military service.