U.S. must fulfill educational promises to military members

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2008

American citizens recognize that our soldiers serving during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have made a great sacrifice for our country. Nearly all Americans agree that we owe them our full support with finding jobs, providing needed medical care and other support so they can successfully reintegrate when they return to civilian life. Helping these men and women gain the skills and credentials they need to succeed in a competitive labor market is both appropriate recognition for their service and a social responsibility.

In addition to their desire to serve their country, about three-quarters of men and women in uniform indicate that education benefits were a key incentive for enlisting. However, in reality, most GI Bill education benefits go unused for a number of reasons. Many have trouble transferring credits that they have already earned from previous higher education experiences or institutions. Some are confused about what benefits are available to them and how to use them.

Traditional higher education often does not afford those in military service the flexibility or platform to manage their studies while serving in the military, particularly when they are also juggling family and job obligations. Many are transferred from base to base, often making it difficult to continue their education. Even military students studying online often need additional flexibility to be successful.

College education for our military is critically important both while soldiers are in the service and when they return home as veterans. Today's military is highly skilled and soldiers on active duty have a much better chance of promotion if they are pursuing higher education. Returning veterans look to college as a means to re-enter the civilian workforce. Once they obtain a degree, the chances of advancement in the military or in the civilian workforce are greater.

Our military has a strong culture that promotes and rewards civilian education. The military often provides selected officers with fully funded advanced educational opportunities while on active duty. When I served in Vietnam, officers like me received educational assistance from the military while serving our country. Enlisted personnel, however, returned home to start new lives and relied on GI educational benefits. Today, they still rely on these benefits, in addition to the support of their colleges, to advance their education.

Institutions of higher education should be prepared to dedicate dollars and support services that address the unique challenges of both active duty and veteran soldiers. The GI Bill has gone a long way to address the rising cost of tuition, yet many of our servicemen and women still have to pay out of pocket to supplement the cost of tuition.

I am proud that the institution where I teach, Kaplan University, recently reduced its online tuition rate for veterans and active-duty service members, allowing their military benefits to cover tuition costs fully. The university also implemented flexible leave policies to help them complete their education and meet the demands of a military lifestyle. I encourage other higher education institutions to dedicate similar efforts in supporting military students and veterans.

Today, thousands of our fine military personnel are returning to civilian life after serving our country around the world. These service people and their families have made major sacrifices for our country. Just as we have provided significant benefits for our returning servicemen and women since World War II, a grateful nation owes our current soldiers full educational benefits to help them successfully integrate into civilian life.

We need to fulfill the educational commitment that we made to these young men and women. We need to ensure that access to higher education is available to those that want to pursue their studies and that unreasonable barriers do not block their way.

Over the coming months as the new presidential administration evaluates its priorities and considers issues related to troop withdrawal and redeployment, please join me to make sure that our veterans are on the agenda to ensure a strong military and a strong economy. They have earned our gratitude and support.

• Nick Halley is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general who was a combat leader in Vietnam, Grenada and Desert Storm. He is an author, professional speaker and full-time faculty member at Kaplan University.



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