Economists and workforce analysts roundly acknowledge that a college education has never been more important to entering the workforce than it is today. In the worst job market since the 1930s, every American needs access to a college degree and to the specific skills and training that will make him or her workforce-ready.
For active-duty military personnel and veterans — individuals who have attained maturity, skills and real-world experience in the service of our country — a college degree is critical for achieving a successful transition to civilian life and/or advancing a military career. In fact, many tens of thousands of servicemembers would identify higher education benefits as one of their top reasons for joining the military.
Fortunately, the post-9/11 GI Bill greatly expanded veterans’ access to federal student aid and low-cost grants, and thousands have benefited by earning a college degree that advances their prospects in the job market. Unlike Pell Grants or other need-based entitlements, the post-9/11 GI Bill is a benefit that veterans have earned by their service.
However, we can’t forget the ripple effect of service to one’s country. Spouses and family members of military members often fall through the cracks in their ability to afford higher education. Toward that end, The Art Institutes, in partnership with the organization I lead, Military Families United, recently announced a scholarship program specifically for military spouses to augment their earned benefits. Our effort is geared toward forging a greater awareness of the service our men and women in uniform and their spouses unselfishly render for all of us.
We know a college education is necessary for success in the 21st-century workforce — especially for our young veterans emerging from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accordingly, veterans are enrolling in large state universities, small private colleges, community colleges and career colleges (often referred to as for-profit colleges).
The reasons that veterans choose career colleges are varied, but include their job-focused degree programs, credit for past training, support and counseling services, flexible class scheduling, proximity to military bases, and online coursework. But not everyone is impressed. A number of policymakers have recently disparaged career colleges and suggested new regulations that would treat a veteran’s earned benefits the same as unearned, need-based entitlements.
Thankfully, a group of veterans service organizations, career colleges and college accrediting bodies recently joined under the moniker Serving Our Student Veterans to address this issue in a way that both protects veterans’ educational choice and ensures that these career colleges are not taking advantage of them. In a letter to the two lead congressmen on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the coalition makes the case for more counseling for veterans and a formal complaint process.
The scores of veterans who make critical leadership decisions on the battlefield are supported by strong family members here at home. These family members are now making leadership decisions about their family’s education and careers. With unemployment rates running in the double digits, it’s time that we support these military spouses and ensure that every option for pursuing a college degree is open and accessible.
Robert Jackson is executive director of Washington-based Military Families United, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to “honor the fallen, support those who fight, and serve their families.”