Military college

The Forever G.I. Bill: For More Than Just College

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by R. Brian Williams

Non-Traditional Ways to Use the Forever G.I. Bill for Members of the Military and their Families.

The Forever G.I. Bill, signed into law this year, expands the benefit and opens up additional ways to use it for non-traditional education options.

From allowing more ways to qualify for education benefits to being able to use those benefits for more than just a traditional college degree, the Forever G.I. Bill is a valuable tool for every service member.

Why It’s “Forever”

The Forever G.I. Bill removed the 15-year “use it or lose it” restriction on the education benefits. For individuals whose last discharge date is on or after January 1, 2013, the time limitation has been removed, and there is no time limit for using your Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits.

Non-Traditional Education Options

Many service members and family members who are eligible for the G.I Bill may not know they can use their educational assistance to pursue accredited independent study programs at the following educational institutions that are not institutions of higher learning (IHLs): area career and technical education schools that provide postsecondary level education and postsecondary vocational institutions. This change went into effect August 16, 2017.

This means that if a beneficiary is interested in pursuing a career as an electrician, diesel mechanic, cosmetologist or personal trainer — as a spouse, child or someone about to leave the military — they can use the education benefits to get their certification and/or license at an eligible institution.

Using these benefits for certifications or licensing can also help currently serving members of the reserve component advance in their chosen civilian careers. Entitlement charges for licensing and certification exams and national tests under the Forever G.I. Bill now will be prorated based on the actual amount of the fee charged for the test.

Certain flight schools and correspondence schools are also approved to receive the benefits, opening new doors for veterans in their post-military career options.

To search for approved programs, licensing and certifications, visit https://inquiry.vba.va.gov.

Demand for Trade Workers

Experts say that the demand for trained and ready individuals is at an all-time high with great starting salaries and a promising future. Career and technical programs, licensing and certifications can help people excel in a chosen field even if they may not fit into a traditional education track, and that can lead to a more successful civilian career.

The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) — the largest national education association dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for careers — reports that participation in skills-training programs has increased wages and earnings, raised the probability and consistency of employment and led to work in higher-quality jobs.

About 50 percent of all STEM jobs are open to workers with less than a bachelor’s degree, according to ACTE officials.

ACTE reports that “43 percent of young workers with licenses and certificates earn more than those with an associate degree; 27 percent of young workers with licenses and certificates earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree; and 31 percent of young workers with associate degrees earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree.”

And shorter-term credentials can be at least as valuable as bachelor’s degrees, say ACTE officials. According to research in Texas, Colorado and Virginia, graduates with technical or applied science associate degrees out-earn bachelor’s degree holders by $2,000 to $11,000. This is a high return on a modest investment— average tuition and fees for U.S. public two-year institutions are less than half of tuition and fees for four year colleges.

The New VoTech: A Look at High School Career Tracks

When you hear about the new direction that many high schools are taking, you may get that “I wish I’d thought of that” feeling. Today’s educators are looking to tie in what students learn in their required courses to practical applications and career choices in a new spin on the old VoTech system — and it seems to be paying big benefits.

Hartselle High School in Hartselle, Ala., offers a wide variety of technical programs called career tracks or academies, including Computer Science / Information Technology, Medical, Law Enforcement, Business, Journalism and Publications, Engineering, Agricultural, and Education.

Principal Jeff Hyche says students who complete a certain track can graduate not only with a high school diploma, but also with valuable skills and even certifications in their chosen field. Several students in the Medical track, for example, passed their National Healthcare Certification Exams before graduation, setting them up to enter the workforce now or providing a base of knowledge in the medical field before they start college classes.

And another huge advantage to completing a career track or academy in high school? It’s basically free, says Hyche. Of course, there are certain class fees and costs, he says, but nothing compared to a student trying to complete the same requirements and certifications on their own.

Hartselle High School partners with the junior colleges of the state, opening up even more opportunities for students. Hyche explains that most junior colleges have excess class capacity during the day, since a majority of traditional JC students participate in evening programs, so high school students can fill that open classroom space during the day. Idle resources do no one any good and the skills laboratories get use during non-peak hours during the day with the high school students, he added.

Junior colleges in many states offer free tuition for high school students via partnerships and technical scholarships. High school students may end up saving money not only on tuition, but also on books and fees, which can be a substantial savings over taking the same class later in life.

Having the support of not only the junior colleges, but also the community and local industries is a huge key to career track success, says Hyche. Industries expect that trained and motivated workers will be available to take available jobs. But there are currently only six out of 10 jobs being filled by workers in the state of Alabama. Having the other 40 percent remain open can not only endanger the economy of the state, but also can have an adverse effect on a community to grow its industrial base, says Hyche, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to have successful career track programs.

In fact, according to the Association for Career and Technical education (ACTE), more than 80 percent of manufacturers report that talent shortages will affect their ability to meet customer demand.

Demand for trained and ready individuals is at an all-time high, with great starting salaries and a promising future. Getting students exposed to these fields early is a great way to give them focus and find out what — or what not — to pursue in life.

Traditional academic programs have been updated and are now being turned into something that is not only giving hope to those who may not fit into a traditional, college-prep role, but also better preparing college-bound students in narrowing down a field of study so they can better use their time and money in college.

These programs are exposing students to a bright and interesting world and are giving them a head start on a spectacular future.