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Using PLA to Improve Veteran Access, Retention and Completion
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Using PLA to Improve Veteran Access, Retention and Completion

Unbiased counseling critical to ensuring veterans and civilians alike gain access to the institutions that suit them best.


Many young men and women signed up for the military with a promise of access to educational benefits during their active duty and when they became veterans. Having served as a military liaison for several institutions, I understand the complexity and frustration of trying to navigate the multitude of benefits programs when it actually comes time to enroll. Compounding the problem is the inconsistency with which colleges and universities award credit for both military-specific training and prior college courses.

Historically, colleges interested in serving military students participated in the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) program that aligned associate and bachelor degree programs with specific training received while in the military.  Additionally, SOC Network colleges guaranteed transferability of select courses between member institutions. An education services officer guided the active-duty military student through much of the navigation of this vast repository of courses and programs. However, once a soldier left active-duty, access to these programs and personalized support abruptly ended.

Although the Veterans Benefits Administration has made their website for educational benefits better, including a college search tool and the White House’s College Scorecard, it’s still a challenge to find the right degree program that will allow a student to keep credits already earned in a traditional program while also maximizing credits for non-traditional learning experiences.

This month, more than 100 stakeholders gathered in Arlington, VA to discuss how to help servicemembers engage and navigate the college application and acceptance process. Giving veterans a jump-start on their college careers and a well-defined path will increase their recruitment, retention and graduation rates.

Much of the information talked about in the education circles, however, never makes it to the veterans who wish to attend college. I have several friends who are veterans who have not taken advantage of their benefits simply because the process is too daunting. A simple Google search of veterans and tuition benefits produces a host of lead gathering sites cleverly packaged as a service to help veterans select and enroll in college when, in fact, they’re selling the information to any and all institutions willing to pay their fees. Clearly, neither the lead gathering service nor the institution purchasing the leads has the best interest of the student in mind.

Having worked with the Coast Guard and National Guard, I was familiar with a software program many education officers used to capitalize on the SOC agreements and the college credit military members can receive for their professional training to shorten the time to and cost for the degree. What makes this service different is it offers unbiased, institution-agnostic counseling that looks at any previous college credits, military and corporate training and prior learning to provide a list of options for the student based on the degree they seek. This can literally save the student years of college and thousands of dollars in tuition.

Unfortunately, federal funding for these services has simply evaporated. This software, however, is now available for the general public, including veterans. Since the evaluation fee is now paid directly by the student, institutions cannot “buy” the leads. After paying for the service, students can use the system, in tandem with their counselor, to choose from hundreds of institutions in the system offering thousands of degrees, both in-seat and via distance education, to find the best degree path. Unfortunately, veterans cannot use their benefits to pay for the service, but the investment is well worth the fee.

You can find out more about this program at www.collegecreditprograms.com

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2 Responses to Using PLA to Improve Veteran Access, Retention and Completion

  1. Tyrese Banner Reply

    2014/07/01 at 10:52 am

    The materials that are out there for prospective military/veteran students have greatly improved in the past decade, but I agree that the process is still overwhelming and much information is left out at the recruitment/decision stage. It’s important that institutions work with the VBA to improve these prospective students’ access to clear, neutral information.

  2. Skeptical Reply

    2014/07/01 at 5:49 pm

    The cynic in me believes perhaps the VBA has an incentive not to provide too much assistance, for fear more veterans would take advantage of their educational benefits. There can be no other explanation for why nothing has happened sooner to clarify the enrollment, PLA and other processes to these students.

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