Commentary

Now is a great time for veterans to enhance their education

One of the great benefits of military service, among many, includes the pursuit of higher education.

Because of the pandemic, many veterans are working and living in quarantine, and some active-duty military are working indoors.

For many, this social isolation and increased computer time has allowed them to finish their undergraduate education or pursue advanced degrees.

The pandemic has accelerated the online educational revolution. Almost every college, university and trade school owns the technology and has instructors to teach, mentor and guide veterans and active-duty military towards a better future.

Think about it — almost any degree, any specialty, any university — from Miami to Michigan, from Syracuse to Stanford — can be obtained online.

As an academic dean and finance professor, I have a vested interest in promoting education. But as an Army veteran who benefitted from the educational opportunities offered to me at West Point, Emory and North Carolina State University, I can speak from experience.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, a bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million over a lifetime, on average. The Federal Reserve noted in 2018 that college graduates earned 80 percent more for weekly wages than those of high school graduates.

The military wants us to be educated. The GI Bill in 1944 granted stipends covering tuition and expenses for veterans attending college or trade schools, educating millions of soldiers and veterans. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educations Assistance Act of 2008 increased education benefits for service members and veterans.

While the military equips soldiers with essential tools surrounding leadership, teamwork, problem solving and time management, these skills are measured in terms of emotional intelligence rather than technical acumen on transition into the private sector.

Many (if not all) industries not only look for these people skills, but also technical competence to assure success. Relying on the notion that a veteran can “learn” on the job will not hold up in a corporate interview — this is reality — especially when there are numerous channels to “up-skill” workforce knowledge.

Basic technical skills will advance learning while on the job and, more critically, will demonstrate that a candidate is genuinely motivated and prudent in targeting a particular employment opportunity.

I discovered this difference upon my exit from the military in 2006: my interviews all went well in terms of perceived work ethic and attitude. Unfortunately, they went flat when deeper technical concepts were broached. Without an MBA, my transition to Wall Street would have been nearly impossible.

Simply put, it comes down to how quickly a veteran wants to achieve a goal and how exclusive the position. If the ascent is not so great, and time is not a factor, then perhaps education is not as important.

The Social Security Administration has shown that a high school graduate will effectively never catch up to the income of a bachelor or graduate-degree holder over time and in magnitude.

This is the optimal time for a soldier to think about pursuing academic goals in connection with their corporate dreams. Just as the military remains the backbone of all veterans, so too will education attainment post-service.

For veterans, I strongly recommend only pursuing degrees from accredited universities or colleges. My personal advice to is stay away from for-profit non-accredited institutions as employers do not regard these as highly.

A recent bill, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, was unanimously approved by U.S. House and Senate just one month ago. The non-profit group Veterans Education Success applauded this new legislation.

“This landmark new law expands student veterans’ protections and will significantly weed out predatory colleges that take advantage of veterans,” said President Carrie Wofford. “This new law was a long time coming and we profoundly thank the congressional Veterans Affairs Committees for hearing our concerns and stepping up to protect veterans and their hard-earned GI Bill. This bill passed unanimously because stopping waste, fraud, and abuse is common sense.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great suffering and major adjustments in the ways we live and work. There may be no “silver lining” in the traditional sense. But there is an opportunity for veterans and soldiers to embrace new technologies, maximize indoor time on our computers and pursue degrees that will help us serve today and possibly prepare for the private sector with greater income opportunities.

Mohamed Desoky, Ph.D., MBA, is the academic dean of the SKEMA Business School in Raleigh North Carolina and a 2001 graduate of The United States Military Academy at West Point.

Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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