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“Military-friendly” means many things to different members of the military, their spouses and dependents. But when you’re shopping for a university or college, be aware that it encompasses much more than awarding credit for your military experience. It’s also about “providing an educational experience that will accelerate your career and providing support services to assist along that journey,” says Jim Cronin, VP of Military Operations at University of Maryland University College in Adelphi, MD.


“When evaluating schools, first look at the career you want to pursue when you transition, find out what degree best supports it, and then select a school that offers that program. Focus your search on schools that support military students. These schools have the knowledge and resources to support your transition. In addition, focus on institutions and academic programs that are of quality and fit into the career you are pursuing,” Cronin says.


There are five key aspects to military-friendly schools: affordability, navigation of funding for military members and families, scholarships, accessible materials, and a dedicated veterans’ advising team. Here are examples of how UMUC meets those criteria. When you’re shopping for your learning institution, analyze each one for similar policies, Cronin advises.

Affordability

Seek out schools that will go out of their way to make classes affordable for both military members and their families.


For example, starting in the spring 2016 term, UMUC made its undergraduate military tuition rate of $250 per credit hour available to all uniformed service members (Active duty, National Guard Soldiers and Reservists) and to those in the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The rate is also available to their spouses and children. Previously, that tuition rate was only available to the service member. Compare that to the in-state tuition of $284 per credit hour (or out-of-state $499 per credit hour) for civilian students.

Funding Navigation

You want a strong team behind you as you navigate the intricacies of post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits and any other state grants or scholarships available to the military community.


UMUC has more than 150 staff members available to assist military members at bases and installations worldwide, for example. Additionally, backing up that front-line staff are dedicated military and veteran advisors at the university’s headquarters in Maryland. They are available online 24/7.


“That can further assist students in choosing the right program, navigating V.A., DoD Tuition Assistance and Department of Education benefits, as well as other forms of financial aid like scholarships,” Cronin says. “Every individual situation is a little bit different, but in most cases, students can work through most funding processes in a matter of weeks. Because we have the staff available, we really assist the student in working the funding processes so they can focus on their education.”

Scholarships

Military-friendly schools should offer a wide range of merit- and need-based scholarships slated specifically for military personnel, spouses and family members and veterans.


UMUC has nearly 120 scholarship opportunities available at both undergraduate and graduate levels, many of which target the military community, for example. The actual requirements - GPA, credit hours, essays, etc. - vary by the individual scholarship. All are listed on the university’s website: http://www.umuc.edu/military-veterans/benefits-and-financial-aid/scholarships.cfm .


Scholarships are awarded for the academic year on a first-come, first-served basis. The application deadlines are July 1 for the academic year or fall semester only and November 1 for spring semester only, Cronin says.


Accessible materials

Look for a school with a cutting-edge approach to educational tools, because this also will save you time, money and effort as a student.


Starting in 2015, for most undergraduate courses UMUC moved away from publisher textbooks to digital resources that are made available to students without charge, either through the university’s online library or through the UMUC Learning Environment Online. The materials are embedded in the course and accessible anytime, anywhere.


“We think there are two big advantages to this approach. One, it eliminates the cost of textbooks for our students, many of whom may be squeezing their budget to afford higher education while juggling work and family commitments. Two, it empowers our faculty to be flexible in creating and customizing course content, and to find the best, most up-to-date resources to help students learn rather than relying on one textbook,” Cronin explains.


The Open Education Consortium’s 2015 President’s Award recognized UMUC’s work with Open Education Resources for exceptional service.

A dedicated veterans’ advising team

One of the biggest assets of a military-friendly school is a consortium of veteran-advising staff members, Cronin says.


“Our advising staff is comprised of a centralized team that support military students at our headquarters in Largo, Maryland, and our front-line staff that support military and veteran students at military instillations and civilian locations throughout the world. All together, we have over 300 staff members advising military students worldwide,” he says.


Advising consists of evaluating military experience and prior college coursework for credit, course planning, navigating payment options (including V.A. benefits) and career exploration.


“Transition assistance is a large part of what our advisors do. For those transitioning out of the military, our advisors can help translate their military experience into college credits and marketable skills for their resume, set a pathway to graduation and prepare for their first civilian job,” Cronin says.


UMUC also has several resources for students who may be struggling in their classes, including a mentoring program that is specifically for military and veteran students. The mentoring program pairs new students and students who need additional support with tenured students.


“In addition to mentoring, we have tutoring services available online and in-person. For veterans, UMUC has a VetSuccess on Campus counselor on site who can also assist with V.A.-provided programs such as their Tutorial Assistance Program. The critical key here is for students to reach out early, even if they are unsure if they need help in their classes. Early assistance is paramount to getting the help you need in the classroom before it’s too late,” Cronin says.



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