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What Veteran Students Fear the Most

David Renza - Friday, November 19, 2010
Today's blog features a story found at this link about how veteran students make their choices of which schools to attend.  For many students, the GI Bill, particularly the Post 9/11 GI Bill, gives them the freedom to attend school without having to work full-time while attending.  It also discusses the expectations of students from the schools they attend, and the preferences from two year versus four year institutions.

The one glaring part of this article that I took special interest to was the fear of some veterans that their education benefits would run out before they completed school.  Even with traditional bachelor's degrees requiring school for four years, some degrees take longer to obtain, five years in some more technical fields.  Additionally, the growing need for advanced certifications and graduate degrees in today's job market means that many veterans need to use funding to pay for graduate studies as well.  Currently, most of the funding for the GI Bill is sufficient for a bachelor's degree and not much else and doesn't take into account a change in degree and career plans or endeavors.

This is why it is more crucial now than ever to take advantage of tuition assistance and other benefits while you are still in the service.  This can only help to stave off the excessive--and growing--cost of tuition and help you prepare for the growing need for advanced studies beyond the graduate level.  Our book discusses this throughout, and it's incumbent upon those who are still serving to take advantage of additional benefits avaiable before you choose to leave the service. 

Happy Veterans Day!

David Renza - Thursday, November 11, 2010
Happy Veterans Day to all! Today I will be celebrating at an event at a local VFW discussing veterans' education benefits with anyone who will listen. 

Here's a unique take from a Huffington Post contributor about a way people could connect with veterans on this special day and beyond.  It deals with the dilemma of veteran re-entry into civilian life.  It's certainly noteworthy that the unemployment rate for veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is high (though part of this may be attributed, thankfully, to taking advantage of the education benefits afforded to them), and the issue of returning from the unbridled chaos of the desert battlefields to life back home in our fragile economy can lead to frustration among our veterans.  It's easy for me to say as an author preaching education that the easiest thing to do is to go to school, but sometimes that's not the easiest thing for the individual.  There are issues ranging from basic fear of returning to a classroom after half a lifetime away from it, to the ravages of PTSD and IED injuries making the return an even more daunting task.  The thought here is that helping a veteran by offering your time to one can make the difference, make the transition to the classroom that much easier.  Maybe at the collegiate level, students could take part in a veteran student orientation day to help them adjust to life at school.  This article here takes that approach to a much larger level and reminds the readers that, in a way, veterans are our one of our nation's most important resources.  The author's call to arms of civilians to do their part to recognize and help--particularly young civilians--truly made this veteran's day!

In our own endeavors to help veterans, Ed and I as most of you know will be donating 15% of the proceeds from each book sold through our website to the Wounded Warrior Project.  I will be discussing our involvement in a future blog.  Please visit the link here for further details about this amazing organization. 

Here's a favorite picture of mine from my old unit, B-Co 143rd Forward Support Battalion.  I'm about in the dead center in back of the unit flag.  Best wishes to all my friends in this picture, particularly those still fighting to keep us safe. 

I thought about some of my favorite songs to share loosely relating to the military.  There's a ton of them, and I'll share them in future posts.  Here's one from Johnny Cash that about sums up what our men and women who serve seem to do best even under the toughest of circumstances. 




For Profits...For Veterans?

David Renza - Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Veterans have become a population that, from the perspective of some colleges, tailor-made for the classroom. Here, I'm not referring only to the benefit their military service would have on their classroom discipline and their positive influence on others.  Rather, I'm referring to the recognition of some schools that veterans are a way to draw guaranteed income from a population who have an guaranteed payment source.  Some for-profit institutions have been known to take advantage of this recently. 

In this article about online schools,
there is a specific example about how one institution made false promises about the prospect of jobs with degrees, and even may have used it's association with a parent company to draw in veteran students.  The for-profit tag has long since had a negative connotation among prospective students, other schools, and even employers after obtaining degrees that may have falsely promised something that could not be delivered.  Even though there are some for-profit schools that deliver a quality education, there are some that have come into questionable practices as of late. 

So why would the veteran population seem so vulnerable to these practices?  Upon leaving the service, the realization that your time and experience in service may not equate to the income potential it once did may lead to the desire to earn a degree as quickly as possible.  The online format of learning, coupled with the accelerated format for obtaining degrees seem like a can't-miss proposition.  This may indeed be the case, but when exploring options for such schools, some schools that may not have the veteran's best interest in mind may have an open door to take advantage of their desire to proceed.  That's where some schools that aren't military friendly may try to step in and take advantage of veterans.  With the promise a source to finance tuition AND an income stream from BAH coming to veterans with the new Post 9/11 GI Bill, this means that more veterans are looking for education options than before its inception and financial aid to cover any gaps.  This creates an opportunity for schools like never before. 

It's the perfect storm--the eager veteran student, Uncle Sugar's money in hand, and the institution with the admissions door wide open.  It all seems too perfect--and in some cases it is. 

There are many reputable schools, both state and private, for-profit and not for-profit--that have the veteran's best interests in mind.  But still many veterans seem to be getting hosed by schools promising them something they just can't deliver.  We discuss these issues in the book in-depth and how to confront them, but here are a few quick tips:

  • Do your research  Several schools are out there that are working in your best interest.  It's your job to have an idea who they are before moving forward
  • Don't feel pressured If you need some time to think about things, have an upcoming deployment that may take precedent, but still feel like the person on the other end of the phone won't take no for an answer, you're probably not in the right place.
  • Does the school have a veteran liaison  Having a voice for veterans on campus even for online schools can be a tremendous resource for you and an advocate when things happen, such as sudden deployments. 

During your military training, you would never consider moving forward without having a clear idea of where you're going first.  So why would you treat your education any different?  You worked hard through your service to maximize your education dollar--don't throw it away in an act of desperation.  Instead, look at it as an opportunity to excel in life.  Make sure you are truly making the right choice when choosing your education institution.  Make sure it's right for you and make sure they have your best interests in mind!

Veteran Students and Engagement On Campus

David Renza - Saturday, November 06, 2010

I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome everyone to our re-vamped blog on military education, which has been updated and tweaked along with the Military Education Benefits for College website.  I would be remiss if I didn't thank our web developer Chris Williams for the very hard work that went into making it go smoothly.  Looking forward to making this the resource for discussion on veteran education topics!

Ever since there has been higher learning it seems there have been attempts to gauge the effectiveness of future, current and former military minds in traditional classroom settings.  With military prep schools and service academies being deemed model higher learning institutions and the emergence of veterans on traditional campuses at a growing rate  transforming the populations of college campuses nationwide, the overwhelming majority of studies done on this topic have pointed to a positive correlation between the two.

But does one's military service necessarily make for a more engaged student? 

A recent study tackled this topic and was featured in Inside HigherEd.  Among the key points of interest from this study, courtesy of the Indiana University's School of Education, were that although this study has been out for over a decade, this is the first time that students who were or are currently in the military were studied.  This is not as remarkable as it seems considering that until recently veterans have comprised about 3.5% of students on average at college campuses.  However, with the recent influx of returning veterans from two wars in the Middle East, the declining economy and the new Post 9/11 GI Bill it is plausible that this number could easily exceed 5% in the very near future if it hasn't already. 

The difference in the veteran student from a demographic standpoint was also noted in the study, including the fact that the veteran student is older, often male and tends to gravitate towards a smaller college often in a distant learning format. 

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The primary finding of the article was that the veteran student spent an equal amount of time studying as their non-veteran peers, but was often less engaged in the university as a whole--this despite of being pleased with their college experience overall. 

This could be attributed to a number of reasons: 

  • Veteran students, due to their military background, can be successful in the classroom with little or no prompting or direction, are self-starters and do not require the services offered.
  • Veteran students do not fully recognize the availability and accessibility of personnel and programs on the college campus. 
  • Veteran students feel disconnected and withdrawn from other student populations.
  • Veteran students may be managing other duties (families, civilian or military careers) outside of the classroom that leads to a natural disconnect through lack of time.

    These reasons are all important and eventually leads the the survey director to an interesting conclusion: While the veteran student for the most part is successful and happy with their college experience, there is still a disconnect felt by them in the overall higher education experience. 

    Why would this be the case?  Part of this may be attributed to the slow recognition of the veteran student population as a legitimate and diverse group in the student population, coupled with the sudden influx of veterans to colleges for the aforementioned reasons.  As the rapid rise of veteran students in today's classrooms becomes a reality, college campuses are forced to react to these changes with limited resources.  Several schools do not have a functioning Veterans Affairs department with a trained VA liaison for the student to use as a resource and guide to deal with issues indigenous to veteran students.  Many schools have these positions occupied by financial aid or admissions persons who may be tasked to do many other jobs besides focus on the veteran student, which can make support difficult. Furthermore, though the draft was eliminated well over three decades ago ending the protests on campuses nationwide, some colleges still may have a population that is slow to accept veteran presence on campuses, if not downright against the notion altogether. 

    Additionally, the structure of universities themselves often do not mix well with the nature of the veteran student.  Well versed in the chain-of-command of their service branch and it's structure, the varying and murky hierarchical structure of college administrations can seem daunting to veteran students, particularly the older students who haven't ventured into the classroom in several years.  This can lead to an attempt to navigate the college experience on their own based on an adapt and overcome ethos, which of course can lead to success due to sheer will and determination--or failure due to lack of support. 

    Either way, it shows that there may be a possible disconnect between the needs of the veteran student and the ability of colleges to assist them.  This could lead to a dramatic shift in the outcome of this survey to the point where veteran students may feel alienated, or worse, abandoned by their college administration and peers which, though unintentional, could lead to difficulties down the road.  The harm that could be caused by this won't be realized until we see the first significant data from this increase in students fueled by the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which may not be available for another year.

    It's my hope that the colleges that look at this study feel some sense of relief that damage has not been done to the satisfaction of veteran students in classrooms nationwide.  However, it is important they don't use it as an opportunity for complacency but rather a call to action to avoid the potential alienation of the veteran student.  Bringing on dedicated and trained Veterans Affairs liaisons as a requirement to universities with a large enough veteran population would be a start and would offer the veteran student guidance to help guide them through the academic process and act as a bullhorn to help them resolve any conflicts or issues that may arise.  This would not only improve on the already high satisfaction of the college experience, but also avoid the possibility of these positive results declining significantly.
     
  • The Fiscal Crisis and what the Military is Doing

    David Renza - Saturday, July 31, 2010

    This article from the Yuma Sun is a demonstration of what’s happening right now with what the military is paying for with education–cutbacks. As fiscal crisis continues to pound at America with reckless abandon, the military is forced to streamline their offerings in more and more programs. What we’re finding is that the sooner you use them and the better a job you do of ensuring a solid outcome from your studies, the more hopes you have that the government will pay out your military education benefits.

    Witness my blog earlier this week on the My CAA program. Using it early meant not only using it before the benefits were reduced, but also using it early on in your career–as was indicated by the changes that the benefits as they stand now are only applicable for the spouses of E5s and lower on the enlisted end and O3s and lower on the officer end.

    This situation is different. The cutbacks in payment for a second DANTES test are reflected in the outcome of your test. The reason for this may have been that too many people, in an effort to get credit for tests as soon as possible to meet requirements for degree programs or to obtain credits, were taking them before they were ready. Somewhere along the line, this trend was observed and the military acted accordingly. The rule now is that the military will no longer pay for tests that are re-taken.

    As mentioned previously and as specified in the article, this is designed to make sure that nobody is taking the test without studying or ill-prepared and hoping for the best. In defense of those who made this decision, there was probably considerable oversight in that area and that’s something that needed to be addressed to save money.

    However, the bigger picture is that of the tightening pursestrings of the government on how and where military dollars are allocated. This means that while there are still many dollars still out there for you to take advantage of for furthering your education, there are now also that many more pitfalls you may encounter that you should be aware of along the way.

    Do not take your education, or the use of your education dollars provided by the miltiary service of you or someone else,lightly. As recent trends would indicate, they are not a perpetual resource with infinite reserves. Use them well, but use them wisely.

    What's Wrong with my CAA?

    David Renza - Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Click here for an article from the July 22nd Minneapolis/St. Paul Star-Tribune

    The My CAA program, which allows spouses to attend school tuition free, has not been without it’s difficulties as of late. It suffered an administrative shut-down earlier in the year that left many spouses attending school in a bit of a bind. It was re-worked to meet the demand, so it seemed, and was unveiled to be returning to the fray stronger than ever. That was until earlier this summer when another shut-off occurred. This particular shut-off was especially devastating, since this happened to occur right before the start of the academic year in September when everyone is preparing to attend schools.

    Now, the My CAA program has returned again, but this time with serious caps to the payout. According to the Star-Tribune article above, it no longer pays $6000 in payment for classes, it now pays only $4000. Additionally, its use is now limited to the lowest enlisted ranks (E1-E5) and junior-grade officers only.

    So why the big changes? Turns out that much like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the My CAA program was not aware of the sheer volume of participants who would be looking to take advantage of it. The surge in Afghanistan and the slower than expected exit from Iraq mean that more military personnel are deployed overseas and the abundance of education options available currently means that more spouses at home are looking to bide their time away from loved ones by enhancing their education. The My CAA program is a terrific option.

    However, to start a program and stop is just not good business. While it’s easy to see that the program is struggling, so was the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Sure–funds were held up for awhile, customer service call time took over an hour and changes were implemented on the fly to meet demand. The Post 9/11 GI Bill program was in a funk for a long time and arguably still is. But the VA to their credit never halted the program altogether after committing to unrolling it on 1 August 2009. Once that date came, people were helped and those who were eligible were never turned away or refused. They may have taken extremely long to be processed and money amounts may have at times been incorrect, but overall the VA truly did everything they could with the resources they were given. Hiccups aside, they should be commended for keeping the program going even when things got impossibly tough (as an college enrollment counselor for military students, I could tell it was at that point).

    But to stop a program completely to re-vamp it, administratively or otherwise, is especially tough on students who have a time line to complete their class payments and change eligibility without informing the users is a tough pill to swallow. The changes in eligibility not only included the ranks of the spouses serving and the dollar amount available, but also the types of programs they can use their My CAA money on. It now can only be used on professional certificates, continuing education courses or associates degrees, and not a bachelor’s degree or graduate-level classes.

    And yet, who can we blame? The program was under-funded and misspent from the get-go. But this does not answer for the thousands of military spouses who served their country in the absence of their loved ones who are looking to use their benefits to improve their lives but now cannot because of the restructuring of the program. Sadly, they are the ones who are left on the outside looking in. I sincerely hope that through financial aid, other military grants and scholarships or a transfer in GI Bill benefits from their spouses, they are able to pay for their educational endeavors.

    Big News!

    David Renza - Thursday, July 08, 2010

    From Ed’s great home state of Massachusetts, Horace Mann was one of the founders of the United States education system. About 200 years ago, he was quoted as saying the following:

    “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men…”

    This quote has been one of the mantras of our book from the start. It can literally change, enrich and improve your life, as well as the lives of those around you.

    To prove that point and positively impact the lives of those who need help, we have chosen to contribute 15% of our proceeds from all books sold exclusively through our website to the Wounded Warrior Project. The Wounded Warrior Project is dedicated to empowering severely injured service members, something we all can agree is a cause that’s worth contributing to.

    It is our sincere hope that our book will help greatly improve the lives of all of the service connected students who read the book. Now, you know that by purchasing the book through our website, you will also be helping our injured service members improve their lives as well.

    We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project and a lasting legacy of positively impacted for those who read our book.

    Greetings!

    David Renza - Saturday, June 19, 2010

    As one of the authors of Military Education Benefits for College, I’d like to welcome you to the first entry in our blog! 

    For those of you who are curious, the title of this blog is part of the tagline for our book: “Improving the Most Powerful Weapon of All…Your Mind!” We thought it was an ideal title for the blog–a segue from the book, but a bit more ambiguous.

    So what can you expect from us?  For starters, exactly what those of you who read the book would expect.  We’re going to be using this as a forum to discuss this issue at length, which has become acause celebre for the authors.  This not only stems from the fact that we are both veterans who have used our benefits to attend collge, but Ed and I also work at a university dealing with military, dependent and veteran students alike.  When we come across anything that we think our readers will find interesting, or that we think will spark some debate or inspiration, be certain we will post it here.  This will be a natural progression from our quick messages we post on our Twitter and Facebook sites dedicated to the book, which may have led some of you here.   If you can think of anything you’d like us to discuss here or investigate for you, please feel free to mention it to us here or anywhere else. 

    As first-time authors, we’re novices in the writing experience and the process of having a book published. It’s all still very new to us, so we have a natural curiosity and excitement with our experiences and will share them with you. Every so often, we’ll discuss the unique experiences we’ll have meeting fellow veterans, authors and others along the trail of promoting the book.  We’ll share any press we get for the book with you here as well, as with our other social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter). 

    Ed and I are also veterans of the military ourselves. We may tell the obligatory war story from time to time.

    Lastly, I’ll speak strictly for myself here–I do like to go on tangents and discuss other things. I’m pretty passionate about my interests, so this may prove to be a forum for that from time to time. This time of year you may hear me talk briefly about how my Mets are doing (mighty fine at this particular time, might I add) or my many rounds of awful golf leaving triple-digit scorecards in my wake. I also may briefly talk about current events. Here’s an example: If you want to stop the oil spill, build a golf course near the site. Put a par four third hole with a tight lie to the left asjacent to the leak. Ask me to bring out my driver and hit away. I guarantee that hole will be filled right up. See that? Killed two birds with one stone right there!

    So in closing, I hope you all enjoy our blog, which we hope to be slightly informative, provocative and at times–entertaining and enjoyable. I’ll leave you with a last parting thought from another former resident of our great state of Connecticut:

    “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
    –Mark Twain

    One small manageable task down.



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