Putting off your education? Don’t!

pro·cras·ti·nate (verb) to put off till another day or time; defer; delay.
ma·ña·na  (Spanish noun) tomorrow; the (indefinite) future.
“I'll think about that tomorrow.” Scarlett O'Hara's famous last words in “Gone With The Wind” by Margaret Mitchell

I am the Queen of the Procrastinators. Every year on January first, I resolve to do my income tax returns as soon as those pesky forms arrive. And every year I flip the calendar to April and say, well, I won't go into what I say. Birthday cards? I buy them early, and maybe, just maybe, I'll mail them. Christmas presents are supposed to be wrapped in plastic grocery bags, right? Right? And don't even get me started on last year's vacation pictures that I was going to edit, caption, and upload to the cloud for everyone to see. In other words, I am too often like Scarlett – I put a hand to my forehead, close my eyes, and say, in a breathy Southern drawl - “I'll think about that tomorrow!”

Fortunately, one thing I didn't procrastinate about was my education. I started taking college courses way back before I joined the Navy (I wrote my papers on parchment paper with a quill pen, according to my smart-aleck sons). During my career, I used tuition assistance to take courses as my duties allowed, took a subject-specific GRE, and used ACE-recommended credits for my Navy training and experience. It may have taken me over 15 years, without much in the way of helpful education counseling I might add, but I finally put it all together in a degree plan and received my bachelor's degree. Not bad, considering my ‘mañana’ tendencies.

If I were to try the same thing today, it would go much, much easier. Now there are many programs and services in place that make the entire education process easier: SOC and MOUs ensure Service members’ credits transfer with them so that they don't have to repeat courses; the Joint Service Transcript (JST) and Air Force Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) transcript consolidate military training and experience into recommended credits that college institutions may apply to degree programs to reduce time and money for Service members; education counselors, both human and virtual, as well as agencies like DANTES, are available to help with every step of the way. Many resources, like OASC/CPST and the MWR Library, are in place with the sole purpose to help Service members reach their education goals. Service members no longer have to go it alone to reach their goals. Expert help is there for the asking.

So, to all you procrastinators out there - GET STARTED, if you haven't already. What are you waiting for? Meet with an education counselor, formulate a plan for your educational goal, move toward it, and don't wait until tomorrow! Tuition assistance is here now, but changes are in the wind. Downsizing is on the horizon. Take advantage of your education benefits NOW, while you still have them. No excuses. No 'mañana'. No “I'll think about that tomorrow.” Get started today!

Now, I'm off to mail my Valentine's Day cards. Maybe I'll add a note to say that they are for 2015 and be early for a change!

For valuable education resources, check out the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) Web site http://www.dantes.doded.mil/index.html.

Nancy Hamilton, DANTES Editor

Fradulent Degrees are Big Business – Don’t be a Victim

Diploma Mills are notorious for imitating in superficial ways the structures and functions of legitimate degree programs. Conversely, there are many legitimate programs that offer nontraditional degrees in an effort to serve the needs of adult students. Therefore, it is difficult to develop a comprehensive list of characteristics that one can use to spot a Diploma Mill. Some characteristics students should look for are listed in this article. The following list is to be used with caution. It exemplifies the characteristics one may find (but not always) typical of Diploma Mills. Students are encouraged to beware and to investigate thoroughly any institution BEFORE beginning a program. Your military education center or virtual education center are excellent resources for to use when assessing the legitimacy of an educational institution. The book, Bear’s Guide to Earning College Degrees by Distance Learning, is another resource students may want to consult to avoid the pitfalls of enrolling in a Diploma Mill program.

Some of the characteristics of Diploma Mills are - The organization may have a name similar to a well-known college or university. The address often suggests a prestigious location, but mail may only be received at a post office box or mail service. The organization may frequently change its address. There is no significant cluster of physical facilities; it operates from a single office or maybe private residence. Full-time staff are few in number and lack qualifications appropriate for serving as professional educators or educational administrators. There is little or no selectivity in admissions; frequently there are no admissions requirements listed. Degree requirements, if any, are few and frequently unspecified. Degrees ordinarily can be obtained in a time frame far shorter than that required for the completion of a program at a generally recognized and accredited institution. Tuition and fees are usually on a per-degree basis.  Assessment of learning outcomes or achievement is minimal or nonexistent. The organization has no library or maintains inferior resources than that expected of a degree-granting institution. Great emphasis is placed on granting credit for work experience and prior life experiences without appropriate mechanisms for assessing the experience in terms of college-level work. Terms such as nontraditional, alternative, and innovative are used to gloss over a multitude of sins. The words "state-authorized" or "state-approved" are used to suggest that the organization has undergone a process of academic review comparable to accreditation. The organization is not accredited by an agency recognized by the U. S. Department of Education. Promotional materials may, however, list agencies not recognized by Department of Education.

Your military education center or virtual education center are excellent resources for Service members to use when assessing the legitimacy of an educational institution. The book, Bear’s Guide to Earning College Degrees by Distance Learning, is another resource students may want to consult to avoid the pitfalls of enrolling in a Diploma Mill program. Also check out the information at http://www.ed.gov/students/prep/college/diplomamills/resources.html , the Dept. of Education has assembled a number of articles and resources to help students avoid getting involved with a diploma mill.  Caveat Emptor – buyer beware, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Don’t fall for the quick fix –your education is your ticket to success.

Dr. Berry

Dr. Carol A. Berry is the Director of DANTES. With over 30+ years of military education experience, she is committed to equipping the education community with tools to serve military students.


Tools for Selecting a College and Comparing Costs

Finding the right school that fits your needs can be a confusing and complicated process. Where can you get the most for your education dollars? Which school gives you the most flexibility in your chosen field of study? Does the school offer financial aid that you can use? What about transfer credits, ACE recommended credits, or credit-by exam credits? Does it all make your head spin? Don’t worry, help is just a click away - tools that can help manage the overwhelming information and get answers to your questions. Here are a few:

College search made easy

Have you heard of the Department of Education’s (ED) College Affordability and Transparency Center’s College Scorecard? The College Scorecard is a very user friendly way to search for a college that is a good fit for you, just search the college name of choice and press enter. The system will populate the scorecard with typical attendance costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, amount borrowed for undergraduate study, and employment options upon graduation. Your search can also be customized based on selected options, such as college location, type of college, and areas of interest.

Cost of an education
Did you know? In 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau partnered with the ED to launch the “Know Before You Owe: student loans project.”After releasing a prototype of a model financial aid offer form to the public and reviewing the process improvement feedback, a financial aid shopping sheet was created. The ED Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is a standardized form that participating institutions will use to assist prospective students and their families better understand the costs of attending an institution before making the final decision on where to enroll. The Shopping Sheet will be available for use beginning in the 2013-2014 award year. To learn more about the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet and see a list of institutions that have adopted the shopping sheet, click HERE.

Comparing schools

The Financial Aid Comparison Shopper worksheet was created to help students make college comparisons tailored to their individual circumstances. The Web site allows prospective students to enter the names of three schools and receive detailed financial information on each one. The site also provides the first-year sticker price for each school as well as the average grants and scholarships packages and the total borrowing per year based on these figures. Once the prospective student enters additional financial aid award information or personal contributions, the program calculates the student’s projected financial burden, along with an estimate of any possible monthly student loan payments once the student has graduated.

Take a few minutes to explore these tools and find out more about a college’s affordability and value so you can make more informed decisions about which college to attend.


Begin Your Free Kuder Journey Today!

DANTES currently has 50,000 Kuder® Journey accounts that will expire if not activated by Dec. 31, 2013. This is a free program paid for by DANTES that usually costs around $35 per account. Kuder Journey is available to active duty military personnel and Service members in transition. It is a valuable resource during the military-to-civilian transition process as well as finding a post military career. It provides tailored career guidance to Service members by a simple 20-minute assessment and aids with an occupations search which allows them narrow down a list of occupation fields that are right for them. From those occupations it will list the education needed to pursue that career as well as information on financial aid and job search and placement tools. Service members don’t even have to complete the assessments at this time; just activate the free, lifetime account. Activation takes less than 30 minutes. To date, Service members have activated about 14,000 of the 75,000 DANTES purchased. It is important to note that these accounts have until Dec. 31, 2013 to be activated. At that point, any unactivated accounts will be lost. Getting started DANTES encourages all Service members to take advantage of this free career guidance system. Information and training can be found at www.dantes.doded.mil/Programs/CounselorSupport.html. To register, go to www.dantes.kuder.com. Points of contact; your local education center, DANTES, Kuder Customer Support at support@kuder.com or 877-999-6227. Begin your journey today! Master Chief David Acuff, USN, DANTES Senior Enlisted Advisor

Did You Know That You Could Earn College Credits Through Testing?

You can earn college credit for what you already know by earning qualifying scores on introductory-level college subject examinations. The DANTES-managed academic testing program provides fully funded exams for active duty, Guard, Reserve, and Coast Guard, including: GED; CLEP and DSST; undergraduate/ graduate admission exams; and teacher certification. Successful completion of these tests can save Service members significant time and money, and spare Tuition Assistance (TA) and/or GI benefits. Nearly 118,000 credits were earned last year through CLEP and DSST programs with a cost avoidance of $25M in TA. Just remember the first time you take a test it is fully funded. If you fail the test, you will have to pay for any re-tests of that subject. Master Chief David Acuff, USN, DANTES Senior Enlisted Advisor

Do You Want to Expand Your General Education, Knowledge and Skills?

The Online Academic Skills Course (OASC) for Military Success helps build reading comprehension, vocabulary and math skills, and prepares learners for college level courses. There is unlimited and free access 24/7 for Service members (Active Duty, Guard, Reserve, and Coast Guard) and their families. OASC is available at www.petersons.com/DANTES/. Master Chief David Acuff, USN, DANTES Senior Enlisted Advisor


College Prep: Free Basic Skills Course for Military and Family Members

With any military operation, the importance of unit readiness and planning is fundamental to achieving mission success. Service members using that same model, taking measures to assess their learning readiness and improve their basic skill proficiencies improve their probability of success in college. Research shows that students who lack proficiency in basic reading, writing, and math are less likely to complete degree requirements when compared to students who took remedial courses.

Most colleges and university require students to take a placement test prior to taking English Composition or a college level math course. Scores on these tests determine whether a student is able to begin taking college level writing and math courses or if they will be required to take developmental courses to improve their skills. Generally, students who are required to take these classes must spend at least one or two semesters paying for courses that will NOT count towards completing degree requirements and typically will not transfer to another school. This translates to spending more money and adding to the time it takes to complete degree requirements.

An effective tool that can help assess and improve academic readiness is the Peterson’s Online Academic Skills Course (OASC), which is made available through DANTES. OASC is a valuable resource available at no cost to all Service members (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard, Air National Guard, and Reserve), regardless of activation status (active, retiree, contractor, or civilian), their families, and DoD civilians. The course helps users improve their basic English and math skills by identifying their strengths and weaknesses and then assigning a personalized set of lessons. The course is available 24/7 and is self-paced.

If you are starting and returning to school and need to take college level math or English courses, be sure to take the assessments in OASC to prepare for the placement test. Get registered for free today by visiting http://www.nelnetsolutions.com/dantes/


Will your post military career require a college degree?

If a college degree is needed, start planning by reviewing your Joint Services Transcript (JST) to find out how much ACE recommended college credit you may qualify for from your military training and experience. The JST is available free online (https://jst.doded.mil) for personal use or may be officially sent to accredited colleges and universities at the student’s request. (NOTE: Air Force transcripts are still available through the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) and the Air Force Virtual Education Center.) Master Chief David Acuff, USN, DANTES Senior Enlisted Advisor


Back to School: Map Your Route to Success (Part 3)

This is part three of the Back to School series designed to be a step-by-step guide to make military members aware of the resources and education benefits that are available to assist in pursuing advanced education while on active duty. In part one Get Started with Self Assessments, you had a chance to take assessments that helped identify possible career fields that would best fit your unique skills, abilities, and work values. With this list of careers, part two provided tools that helped Explore and Narrow Your Options and begin to understand the qualifications that civilian employers prefer. Armed with this information, you are ready to begin mapping your route to success.

Although a professional military education counselor can help guide you through steps one and two, this stage is where you may benefit the most. Education counselors are poised to help you narrow your top two or three career choices and assist you in developing a path to achieve the education and career certification requirements necessary to become competitive in your military and future civilian career. Bring your Kuder Journey assessment results with you or email them to your virtual education counselor. If you have not already taken these assessments, education center personnel can help you gain access to them. Your counselor will also access your Joint Service Transcript (JST) (and CCAF transcript for Air Force personnel) to review the recommended college credits you have obtained through your military training and occupational experiences. For those with previous college credits from college coursework or high school AP or IB exams, the counselor will assist in reviewing these credits on your JST. (If you need to update your JST with missing training, college courses, or degree completions see JST Corrections).

Next, the counselor will discuss setting career goals and then begin discussing education paths to support reaching those career goals. Short-term goals may include things that you need to do to get prepared for college, completing an Associate degree for military promotions, or pursuing a certification. Long term goals may include obtaining a Bachelor or graduate degree and advanced licensure. Your current military occupation, family support system, and command operational tempo are important factors that will be considered as you begin to establish your education path. The counselor will show you degree options from local and online colleges that best match your needs. They are also able to show you how your credits may transfer to each college option. If you are considering online learning, your counselor may recommend that you take the Distance Learning Readiness Self-Assessment (DLSRA) to determine your level of readiness for online learning and provide insight on how you can increase your level of preparedness. Based on other factors, they may also suggest that you take the assessments in the Online Academic Skills Course (OASC) to assess your basic math and English skills. Many schools require placement tests to determine whether or not you are able to successfully complete college level coursework in math or English. If you are unsuccessful on a placement test, you may be required to take developmental coursework. OASC has features that are designed to improve your basic math and English prior to taking college placement tests.

So at the end of your session with your counselor, you will have a good idea of what school you plan to attend and potential courses that may be required to take. Stay tuned for the next part in this series that will walk you through getting started at your school, ways to get college credit outside of the classroom, and funding sources to pay for classes.

Why You Need to Utilize SOC for YOUR Education

At no other point in history have military spouses received such high levels of national recognition and appreciation for their contributions and sacrifices than during the recent Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Military spouses and family members were explicitly mentioned in the April 2012 President’s Executive Order establishing principles of excellence for educational institutions serving military populations. In that Executive Order, President Obama challenged institutions of higher learning “to provide meaningful information to service members, veterans,spouses, and other family members about the financial cost and quality of educational institutions to assist those prospective students in making choices about how to use their Federal educational benefits; ... and ensure that educational institutions provide high-quality academic and student support services to active-duty service members, reservists, members of the National Guard, veterans, and military families”[1] [emphasis added]. Spouses and college-age military dependents comprise an important subset of this military student population.

Like the active-duty servicemembers, military family members frequently relocate and have their educational progress disrupted or delayed by the change of duty station. Growing numbers of military spouses and family members have aspirations for career enhancement and for successful completion of a credential, certificate, or postsecondary education degree. Until recently, military family members relied heavily on grants and scholarships to fund their educational endeavors. Now, thanks to funding sources like My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA), the Post-9/11 GI Bill Transfer of Eligibility Benefits, tuition discounts and spouse scholarships from various organizations and academic institutions, military family members have numerous funding options and educational choices.

Military spouses who want to earn a college degree, but are not sure where to start, may ask, “How do I choose a school and program that are the right fit for me?” or “Is the institution appropriately accredited?” Additionally you may want to know whether the school will accept credit for prior learning, and/or award credit for national tests. How does the institution support its military students and their dependents? Should I take an online or classroom course? How will I pay for it? What are my education and career goals?

The vast education resources of Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) provide military spouses with a variety of educational options for pursuing post-secondary education. SOC’s consortium is comprised of approximately 1,900 institutional members that enroll hundreds of thousands of servicemembers, their family members, and veterans annually in associate, bachelor’s, and graduate-level degree programs on school campuses, armories, and military installations within the United States and overseas, and through a variety of distance learning methods. Consortium institutions are military-serving with flexible policies that allow mobile servicemembers and their families to complete degrees rather than just accumulate course credit.

[1]Executive Order -- Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members, Sec. 2. Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/04/27/executive-order-establishing-principles-excellence-educational-instituti

Recognizing the continuing higher education needs of servicemembers, SOC colleges and universities pledge to reduce or remove many of the geographic and institutional barriers to servicemembers and veterans who are pursuing a college degree. SOC serves as a vehicle to help coordinate voluntary postsecondary educational opportunities for servicemembers in the following ways: 1) Stimulate and help the higher education community understand and respond to special needs of servicemembers; 2) Advocate the flexibility needed to improve access to and availability of educational programs for servicemembers; 3) Help the military Services understand the resources, limits, and requirements of higher education; 4) Help the higher education community understand the resources, limits, and requirements of the military Services; and 5) Strengthen liaison and working relationships among military and higher education representatives.

The SOC Degree Network System (DNS) is a subset of the SOC Consortium. Made up of SOCAD (SOC Army Degrees), SOCNAV (SOC Navy Degrees), SOCMAR (SOC Marine Corps Degrees), and SOCCOAST (SOC Coast Guard Degrees), these colleges and universities are committed to helping servicemembers and their adult family members complete associate and bachelor’s degrees by adopting policies that in some aspects exceed those of the larger SOC Consortium.

SOC DNS Core member institutions guarantee transfer of courses in SOC DNS Course Categories, so that courses may be transferred back to the home college without prior approval, making it easier for servicemembers and their family members to complete associate and bachelor’s degrees no matter where, or how many times they move during their military career. As long as students enrolled in DNS degrees complete the academic residency requirements of the home college—25% or less of degree requirements (30% for completely online programs)—they may take approved courses from other colleges to complete the degree plan as they relocate during their military careers. The Student Agreement—a contract for degree issued by participating DNS colleges—follows the students through their academic career and provides a complete evaluation of prior learning, including courses from other colleges and universities, military training courses, military occupational experience, and nationally-recognized tests, as well as clearly identifying requirements for completing the degree.

One source of information on the SOC Web site is a series of videos developed to help military students understand the key factors central to selecting a home college that meets their educational goals and instructional needs. Envisioned as a counseling resource for Education Services personnel, these videos can be viewed by servicemembers and their family members to increase their knowledge and understanding of the decision process in the early stages of choosing a college degree program and an academic institution.

The videos were produced and directed by the Instructional Technology Department of Columbia College, Columbia, Missouri. Designed from a student perspective, these short vignettes present basic college choice information and factors to consider, steps in the decision-making process, and tools students can use as they consider their long-term academic and career goals, and prepare for their postsecondary education. The videos were created specifically for military student populations. Unique factors in the college decision process are highlighted for various sub-groups—the active and reserve components, veterans, spouses, and dependents. To view the videos and other resources on this site, visit http://www.soc.aascu.org/socconsortium/WhyAttend.html and look for “Video Series: Selecting a College That's the Right Fit for You.”

For more information about SOC programs and resources, visit the SOC Web site at http://www.soc.aascu.org/. You may also e-mail socmail@aascu.org or call 1-800-368-5622 toll free for answers to any questions you might have.

This article was originally posted on MilitarySpouse.com by Marcy Shapiro, Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges | AASCU