The GI Bill tackles a large portion of the financial side of hitting the college books, but that’s not the only barrier for military veterans.
Knowing how to handle those books can be just as daunting.
That’s where programs like Veterans Upward Bound come into play, counseling veterans on their educational futures and prepping them for a world of studying and tests.
“Ultimately, I define success differently than our funding agency,” says Julia O’Dell, associate director of Veterans Upward Bound at the University of Kansas. “It looks at how many people enter school, and how many we’ve had a positive impact on in terms of academic scores. Those things are important, but more important to me is how many veterans [now] have a plan?” It’s a common story for a high school graduate to enlist with the idea of cashing in on the GI Bill – but then life happens and the years roll by.
Veterans under 35 years old typically decided to opt for a military lifestyle early in high school, and consequently skipped the college prep track. This means they not only lack the book-learning background, O’Dell points out, but they also missed out on the “how to go to college” instructions: which entrance tests to take, how to submit an application, where to file for credits.
Frankly, even those who did sit through those steps will find a whole new world of online enrollment. “Colleges don’t necessarily help themselves these days by automating all this stuff. It’s great if you’re 18 and can text, chat, and go to Facebook for guidance,” says O’Dell. It’s sometimes frustrating even to Gen X.
Lifestyle seems to be the sticking point for those over 30 years old. This demographic usually has families to support and full-time career responsibilities, so the ability to devote five years to an education goal is vanishing. “If someone wants to start a business at age 40, I wouldn’t say, ‘You need to get a four-year degree in business and then a masters in marketing,’” says O’Dell. Instead, she’d take the more practical approach, looking into entrepreneurship programs at a community college.
“When someone has a lifelong dream of owning his own business and wastes a year or even six months on something that won’t work, he sometimes just gives up. He thinks it will never happen,” she adds.
After counseling, Veterans Upward Bound programs offer complimentary classes to get veterans up to speed in reading, language, foreign language, computer skills, and math. Math in particular builds on itself, so you have to be fluent in the basics, says Josh Salcman, president and co-founder of Virtual Nerd in St. Louis, Mo. That’s why his tutoring site drills down on this subject. “College professors are telling me that despite state requirements, students are coming into college without a strong math foundation to succeed,” he says.
And as a virtual option, Virtual Nerd offers flexibility in schedules and geography.
Veterans are still on their own, however, when it comes to self-discipline, O’Dell notes. “Ours is a completely voluntary program. We can’t say you have to be in class these days, you have to do this and that. The drive must come from within you,” she adds.