In the modern era, a college degree is a necessary element to building a successful and prosperous future. You’ve heard this before; in fact, it might begin to sound cliché and overbearing. But those who want to excel after their military service need to understand the realities of the job market and combine their developed skill set with a forward-thinking mindset—and a college degree is the right choice for many veterans.
One of the most daunting barriers to an education is the cost; many people spend decades paying back student loans, and lower-paying careers make it difficult to recoup the monetary value of a college education. But military veterans are eligible for a number of financial assistance programs, notably the G.I. Bill, which provides full tuition and fees for in-state students and up to $18,077.50 for tuition and fees at private or foreign schools (and that’s going up to $19,198.31 for the 2014 school year). You are also eligible for a monthly housing allowance and a stipend for books and supplies. There’s even a $500 relocation payment available for veterans from highly rural areas (six people or less per square mile). Learn about the various G.I. Bills available for different types of education programs here.
According to a 2012 Military Times survey of 650 schools, 85 percent of colleges waive late fees for students whose military education benefits arrive late. According to Military Times, “Half [of those schools] waive interest, advance credit toward books and other expenses, or help students find emergency money…[and half also] have special rules in place to give service members in-state tuition. About six in 10 schools have a veterans office on campus.” To get a list of those schools, check out Military Times “Best for Vets: Colleges 2013” survey, which features 68 four-year colleges, 23 two-year colleges, and 20 online and non-traditional colleges.
Since 2001, colleges have been doing more to accommodate the needs of veterans and active-duty service members, including the establishment of new programs and services designed for military personnel. According to a 2012 study by the American Council on Education (ACE), “Almost all campuses that have services for veterans and service members offer some type of academic support or student service designed specifically for these students. Aside from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits counseling, the most frequently cited services were financial aid/tuition assistance counseling (67 percent) and special campus social and/or cultural events (66 percent).”
The ACE collaborates with the Department of Defense to award college credit for military training and experience. According to the 2012 ACE report, 83 percent of institutions that offer services for veterans and military personnel provide evaluated credit for military training, and 63 percent award evaluated credit for military occupational experience. This guide offers assistance in understanding the transfer rates of your military transcript.
It’s simple: College graduates experience lower unemployment rates than those with a high school diploma or less. In fact, a college degree cuts the unemployment rate in half: In February of 2013, the unemployment rate for college graduates was 3.8%, compared with 7.9% among high school graduates and 11.2% among those who didn’t complete high school, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
College graduates are more likely to find jobs that interest them because they have developed a skill set that is directly applicable to their chosen career. And it shows: College Board’s 2010 Education Pays report confirmed that people with a higher level of education report higher job satisfaction. Since you will spend the greater part of your life working, it makes sense to invest in your interests.
That same College Board report also found that college graduates are less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise, avoid obesity, and circumvent heart problems, compared to high school graduates. And numerous studies have shown that a higher education is linked to lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, which is particularly relevant to military veterans. It is estimated that 10-30 percent of military veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You can even reap the stress-lowering benefits while in school: According to the 2012 ACE study, 84 percent of institutions that offer services for veterans and military personnel provide PTSD counseling.
In 2008, 68 percent of college graduates had employer-provided health insurance, but only half of high school graduates did, according to a report by College Board. While the Veterans Administration operates the country’s largest health-care system, one in 10 veterans is still without health care benefits, according to a 2012 Urban Institute study, translating into 1.3 million veterans and 0.9 million family members without coverage. Four states—Louisiana, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana—have veteran unsinsurance rates above 14 percent. Given rising medial costs and the unique needs of military veterans, ensuring benefits for you and your family is an important step to a stable future.
According to economists, places with a well-educated workforce attract high-skill jobs, which in turn attracts more educated workers, leading to a cycle of prosperity. Businesses and industries choose to locate in cities with a skilled, highly educated workforce, so one of the best ways to advocate for the growth of your hometown—or wherever you choose to live—is to get an education and encourage others to do the same.
In 2008, college graduates earned an average of $26,000 more than workers with just a high school diploma. Unless you want to work in an apprentice trade, the general societal consensus is that college degrees are worth the time and money.