Why You Need to Utilize SOC for YOUR Education

By: Marcy Shapiro, Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges | AASCU

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.

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