Monday, November 18, 2013

Education benefits: Look before you Leap

by Capt. Erin Palumbo
439th Base Education and Training

11/15/2013 - WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- It's no myth that people with advanced degrees, on average, make more money than people with a high school diploma. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following average weekly earnings for 2012: high school graduate, $626; associate degree $761; bachelor's degree, $1,025; master's degree, $1,257; doctoral degree, $1,532.

A degree is much more than checking a box in your military career progression. It provides the stability, competitiveness, and lifetime financial rewards to cover the range of lifetime employment challenges. However, consider these premises before putting the first down payment on a college education.

Look before you leap

Sometimes in the rush to obtain a degree, not enough consideration is given to which degree is the right one. The money provided to our Airmen is good for one higher education degree. If an Airman rushes to get a degree in anything, looking to check the box, and later finds out that career field has no interest, no jobs in the area, or is not compatible with their family/ military life, there's no going back. Consider a similar purchase, such as buying a house.

Before you sign the dotted line, you would spend time considering the location, your long-term plans, you would order a house inspection, and you would take time walking through the property to ensure it was the right purchase. Give the same consideration to your degree selection. Whatever you pick will have a lasting impact. There are several ways to do a pre-purchase test.

Try it on for size

Educational benefits: Look before you leap Before you purchase your degree in higher education, try it on for size. There are several good ways to get a feel for a career before investing time and money.

Consider an internship. While the pay might be minimal, the experience gained is invaluable. This is an effective way to test a career field. Job realities might be different than job expectations.

Volunteering a few hours might be flexible and might create employment opportunities. Working nights, weekends or part-time could provide a chance to see if the job matches your preference.

Obtaining an entry-level job in the field will also give you some exposure. For example, if you'd like to be a nurse, try a job as a secretary in a hospital. It'll help give you a good feel of the daily life of a nurse and general work atmosphere.

Any of these options might slow an eager Airman in the pursuit of a degree. But if the money and time of an education are weighed against the cost of a second education when the first one doesn't work out, it's a smart choice.

'Not all schools are created equal'

Do your homework before you enroll. At the 2012 DoD Worldwide Education Symposium, two members from the Pentagon's Department of Justice spoke on the growing fraud and misrepresentation in the recruiting or educating of service members. Not only are service members harmed, but the GI and Tuition Assistance money designed to help them are also not well spent. If at some point the government feels these programs are not accomplishing their mission, funding for them may be reconsidered.

Today, there are many colleges offering online degrees and claiming to be military friendly. It's worth the time to fully price shop as there can be huge differences. One college might offer the same degree for 25 percent less cost. Some colleges do not have fully credited programs. Be wary of any college claiming to be endorsed by a service.

The Department of Defense does not endorse any college or university. Schools should not claim to be approved by or use the seal of any military component. Nobody should be subjected to repeated phone calls, emails, or direct mail. Consider these aggressive marketing tactics as "red flags."

Be sure you check the school accreditation as well as credit transfer history. Broad claims such as "everyone's credits transfer everywhere" should put you on alert. Nobody's credits transfer everywhere.

However the school should have a good history of most credits being accepted at most applicable schools. Ask about the school's graduation rate and job placement record. A Chicago college promised criminal justice graduates a job with the Illinois State Police. It turned out the Illinois State Police did not accept graduates from that program. Just a few blocks down the street, a different college was offering a criminal justice major for nearly half the price. The Illinois State Police did hire these graduates.

Getting a degree is important. Equally important is taking the time to research the particular degree and school you choose. Benjamin Franklin said it best, "If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Capt. Palumbo was the officer in charge of the base education and training office when she wrote this article. For more information, call 557-3440.

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