The Department of Veterans Affairs has been fairly successful in their handling of the revamped GI Bill and ensuring that the problems that plagued the system in its early days were not repeated. While there has been some trouble with the disbursement of funds with the changes enacted in January 2011 and made effective in August, much of those problems can be avoided with a little understanding from the University. In my last article about education, I detailed how for-profit universities want that money. However, not-for-profit universities and trade schools want that money, too. They want both the money and the student because as veterans become a significant percentage of their student body, the schools see the high quality students most veterans turn out to be. At Robert Morris University, a professor told me that he has young veteran students who have exactly the same college experience as non-veteran students, with respect to the social-drinking and party culture, but instead of struggling they still turn their work in on time.
With the cost of public and private universities increasing every semester, there is a real question for many potential students if the cost of the degree is worth it. For many veterans it is foolish not to use the benefits. The temptation to do it on the cheap or with a limited time investment is a very real and very viable one. Going online or to community college can save money and knock out easy credits. But therein lies the problem.
One of the few areas where both liberal and conservative thinkers in this country agree is that the veteran community is made up of remarkable people. In the military, one wouldn’t try to do as little as possible for the unit and still expect to be promoted. Well, that thinking applies here. Some classes, arts and literature for the scientific and mathematic (and vice versa), may seem like a giant waste of time. I am sure it seems like just as much of a waste of time as filling sandbags or any of the other tiny, almost zen-like lessons the military tries to teach its soldiers. College is just like the military in that you can do the bare minimum standard and stay in, or you can push yourself, take risks and reap benefits you never knew existed.
This is a personal opinion, but I also think the on-ground college experience cannot be beat. There is a level of access to your professors that one wouldn’t have online. Numerous times I have walked and talked with professors, having concepts explained to me and tailored to my individual ability to learn and work out problems. The peers are varied and diverse: older and younger, affluent and broke, focused or drifting, and a host of other qualities that were simultaneously both present and absent in the military experience. That is, they were there, but their importance often dwindled when we would remember where we were. Also, these students benefit from the presence of veterans. Many are more likely to ask questions than presume they know the answer to them.
There is no guarantee that even if every veteran went to college and graduated with a degree that he or she would be guaranteed a job. More students are majoring in Drama than in Engineering. Myself, I started in computer science, but instead changed my focus to English. However, even those students majoring in the “wrong” things will emerge from their experience smarter than if they hadn’t gone. Even those who are highly critical of college perfected their critical thinking skills in those same college classes. All education isn’t equal. Neither are students. What is constant, though, is that just like in the military, you will get out of your education what you put into it. Why not go all-in?
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