The Importance of Education to a Post-Military Career

By Lt. Col. Paul Capicik (USAF, Ret.), American Sentinel University

Your military career has provided you with a rich set of experiences and skills that many civilian employers seek in new hires. But experience and skills alone are no guarantee you will land the perfect job once you leave the service. Education is very important. Many jobs will have minimum education requirements just for you to be considered, and if you don’t meet those requirements, odds are your resume won’t get a second glance.

In addition to meeting the minimum job requirements, you will most likely need to exceed the experience, training, and education credentials of others competing for the job. Education can often be the tie-breaker that will get you hired.

Fortunately, military members and veterans have significant opportunities to turn job experience, formal training, and even cultural enrichment experience into college credit – to help give you a head start toward an advanced degree. Each of the four services provides extensive training to its servicemembers throughout their careers.  Officers and enlisted members have opportunities to attend Professional Military Education (PME) courses at various stages of their careers, as well. All such training and courses have some potential for transfer to a university for credit in a degree program.

In this article, I examine some of the things you should keep in mind when approaching education decisions that will impact your post-military career. If you are still on active, you have tuition assistance available to pursue a degree or even a certification program before you become a veteran. This is important because active duty tuition assistance money is different from and in addition to GI Bill (VA) benefits. In essence, you have the opportunity to maximize both and pursue advanced degrees for little or no cost. No matter which benefits you use to obtain a degree, there are some elements of education that you should consider to help accelerate degree completion and put you on the path toward a wonderful post-military career.

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) awards college credit at more than 2,900 U.S. colleges and universities for demonstrating achievement in a subject by means of an examination. Individuals who pass a CLEP exam can earn the same amount of credit as a student who successfully completes the same course at a school.

CLEP consists of a series of examinations that test an individual’s college-level knowledge gained through course work, independent study, cultural pursuits, travel, special interests, military service schools, and professional development. The American Council on Education (ACE) recommends the minimum score for awarding credit, but each institution determines its acceptable score and the amount of credit granted for each examination. Because CLEP policies vary from school to school, students should check with a school to determine which exams are accepted and how much credit they will receive.

CLEP examinations are available at no cost to members of the military community, which include active-duty and reserve members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, as well as Army and Air National Guard personnel. Veterans may be eligible for full or partial CLEP fee reimbursement from the VA, depending on which GI Bill program they are entitled to receive (Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, etc). Veterans should check with the VA for specific information about CLEP reimbursement.

Generally speaking, military members may take CLEP examinations at college campus test centers or at their servicing installation Education Services Office (ESO). Each exam is one and a half hours in duration and computer based. There are presently 33 different CLEP examinations available in the following categories:

  • Composition and Literature
  • Science and Mathematics
  • Foreign Languages
  • History and Social Sciences
  • Business

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium

The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) was created in 1972 to provide educational opportunities to servicemembers who, because they frequently move from place to place, might have trouble completing college degrees. SOC functions in cooperation with 15 higher education associations, the Department of Defense, and Active and Reserve Components of the Military Services to expand and improve voluntary postsecondary education for military members worldwide. SOC is funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) and is managed for DoD by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES).

The SOC is comprised of approximately 1,800 appropriately accredited colleges and universities providing associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees for servicemembers and their adult dependent family members. These are considered military-friendly institutions with flexible policies that allow mobile servicemembers and their families to complete degrees rather than just accumulate course credit. To become a member, a prospective college or university must agree to the SOC’s Principles and Criteria:

  • Reasonable Transfer of Credit: avoid excessive loss of previously earned credit and avoid course work duplication
  • Reduced Academic Residency: limited to no more than 25% of degree requirements with no final year or semester in residence (may require 30% for undergraduate degrees offered 100% online)
  • Credit for Military Training and Experience: recognize and use the American Council on Education (ACE) Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services in evaluating and awarding academic credit for military training and experience
  • Credit for Nationally-Recognized Testing Programs: award credit for at least one nationally-recognized testing program such as College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) General and Subject Exams, (DANTES) Subject Standardized Tests (DSST), Excelsior College Examinations (ECE)

The SOC maintains a current list of member schools on its website: SOC Consortium Member Institutions 2009 – 2011

American Council on Education (ACE)

Since 1945, the American Council on Education (ACE) has provided a collaborative link between the U. S. Department of Defense and higher education through the review of military training and experiences for the award of equivalent college credits for members of the Armed Forces.

Registrars, admissions officers, academic advisors, career counselors, and DoD Voluntary Education professionals have a basis for recognizing military educational experiences in terms of civilian academic credit through the Military Guide Online. The Guide is searchable by military courses and by occupation, making it a very user-friendly resource for assessing possible college course credit.

Military Transcripts

Military members and veterans have several sources of assistance when it comes to assessing their potential for obtaining and transferring credit for military training and experience. One of the necessary first steps when approaching a college or university about gaining credit is to obtain copies of your military course transcripts.

The American Council on Education (ACE), through its Military Registry program, provides quality assurance and policy guidance to the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps on their transcript registries. Over 2,300 colleges and universities recognize these ACE-endorsed transcripts as official documentation of military experiences and accurate records of applicable ACE credit recommendations. Military members and veterans should visit their respective service transcript websites for additional information:

  • Army/ACE Registry Transcript Service (AARTS)
  • Sailor/Marine/ACE Registry Transcript (SMART)
  • The Community College of the Air Force maintains the official USAF transcript service

Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET)

The Department of Defense (DoD) provides military members and veterans a Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET) document (DD Form 2586) that may be useful in assessing course work for possible credit transfer. It is sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy, in cooperation with the military services.

The VMET document is an “all-services” integrated form which displays demographic, training, and experience information that is retrieved from various automated sources. It lists military experience and training which may have application to employment in the private sector. It is useful as a tool to prepare resumes and job applications, in concert with evaluation reports, training certificates, awards, transcripts, and other pertinent documents.

The VMET is not an official transcript for purposes of granting college credit, but it can be used to support training and/or course requirements to qualify for civilian occupations, certificates, licenses, or programs of study. Credit recommendations from ACE for occupations and/or courses are listed when they are available; academic institutions determine which credits are applicable to a program of study.

Military members and veterans should visit the VMET website to obtain a DD Form 2586 and other useful information.

Are you ready to maximize your education and enter the civilian workforce with confidence?  If you explore all the avenues I’ve suggested in this article and push your college to grant as many credits as possible, then you will be well ahead of your peers. In today’s downturned economy, competition for good jobs is stiff. The faster you can advance your education, the better-postured you will be when you jump into your post-military career job search.  We want you to do all you can to move forward on this new path.

Named a Military-Friendly School by GI Jobs for the third year in a row, American Sentinel University offers outstanding military benefits for service members, spouses and veterans, including reduced tuition rates, an expansive transfer credit policy, no-cost books for active-duty, and personal support for the unique military lifestyle. American Sentinel provides accredited, quality Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs for high-job-growth industries, combining the flexibility of its100% online platform with dedicated personal support. Programs include IT, computer science, GIS, nursing, business intelligence, management, and IT industry certifications.

Paul Capicik is a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, who served as a command pilot qualified in both fixed and rotary wing aircraft and held several strategic and operational plans and program positions. Following retirement, he spent more than 12 years with Civil Air Patrol as director of several departments and Chief Information Officer for that nationwide 60,000-member organization. An Air Force Academy graduate who also holds a Master’s in Information Technology, Lt. Capicik is Vice President, Military Programs at American Sentinel University.

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