Use caution with online college selection

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Few disabled veterans would argue that name brand recognition for colleges like Stanford and Harvard does not raise an eyebrow when reading a resume. Why? Because these elite schools are very selective based on a criteria of test performance and individual achievements. Entering freshman classes are usually around 3,000 students. While many perceive these universities to be merely a country club education for the children of the rich and famous (only partially true), the education and exposure students receive is priceless.

During tech school in the US Air Force, the Department of Defense just implemented computer based educational systems. Military trainee washout rates were around 40 percent for your program. Many Keesler Air Force Base instructors questioned the wisdom of using computers to be the primary delivery model of technical instruction versus the tried and true methods of long lectures and note-taking.

That was 1996. Today, 15 years later, technology and access to its benefits, has greatly changed. Entire universities now instruct American citizens on anything ranging from nursing to history. Many online universities have been developed and many people have benefited from the flexible schedules and locations. No longer do students need to be living next to a university to gain access to the coveted diplomas earned by the deserving masses.

Now enter the For-Profit Model of higher education. Publicly traded companies buy up accredited but universities and integrate the online model. Great! A functional university rises out of the midst of a failing institution, right? Not exactly. In order to increase stock prices and lure investors, these universities need to continually grow their student body. For example, as a result of these pressures for growth, the University of Phoenix has grown from a student body of 0 in the 1980’s to a student body of over 500,000, and growing. In addition, these universities spend only one-third of their capital on teaching. The remainder of the funds they receive from students is based on marketing. For more on this, see the recent Frontline “College, Inc.” article. One look at will give any viewer a firm understanding of how much these online universities are paying for marketing. Many of the ads and articles on this are targeted right at you.

Differentiation. You may be wondering why this matters. When considering in economic terms, college graduates all graduate at some point (or they drop out). At that point, many of them enter a pool of new grads looking for work. Every year, over 4 million students graduate from college, and that number is increasing. In an ever increasing pool, differentiation becomes an increasingly important factor.

Take two veterans with equal experiences while enlisted. One veteran graduated from Harvard and the other veteran graduated from Kaplan University. Both apply for the same job. Let’s say they want to go to law school or to become forensic investigators. Who will get the nod? This depends.

Does the hiring agent believe the saying, “A degree is a degree”? Or, does the hiring agent think that educational quality matters? Put another way, “Do I want to hire the person who’s professors were Nobel Laureates or the person who never met a professor?” As we all learned while training in the military, learning via hands on experience was much more important that learning via a computer. Similarly, interacting with professors and classmates, in person, and through study groups, greatly enhances the learning process. Now, if you believe my latter claim, you will conclude that the hiring agent will hire the Harvard grad who is also a veteran.

How does this apply to you? While most of us will never get into Harvard, there is a large number of universities spread throughout the country with on-campus instruction. If you believe that hands on instruction is better than online learning, than those college grads in your area with regular university names on their resumes will have a higher likelihood of “raising the eyebrow” of hiring agents.

For veterans and disabled veterans trying to decide between the two options, always consider how you will find work after you complete school. It’s all about marketability. Depending on which scenario you believe, make the choice for that university type.

About the author: Ben Krause is a Bosnia-era veteran, serving in the US Air Force from 1996-2001. He received his disability rating from the VA after service and subsequently was approved for Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment. He received a bachelors degree from Northwestern University and will begin law school at Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, OR, in 2010. Ben is a member of Disabled American Veterans, American Legion and the Golden Key International Honour Society.

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  1. i had alredy been approved for an mba or a phd in pharmocology when with two weeks before beginning, the VA pulled the rug out and stated and anyone with a BA or higher was not not eligible. i have not been able to get over this hurdle for 5 years now. any solutions?

    1. A couple things. First, I put together a few different appeals packets to get the ball rolling: The appeal in this template focuses on what happens when a regional office changes the decision rendered by another office. It’s an eBook with relevant hyperlinks for research. It further tells you how to request your file and get the ball rolling on a solid appeal. I recently read of a fella approved for more or less what you’re talking about. He was approved for Pharma but wanted to get an MD with radiology specialty. Read his appeal:

      Finally, once you get your appeal in order, I would suggest talking with a lawyer who specializes in Veterans Law, or at least Administrative Law. It may be worth a half hour to find out what the law says about your specific situation.

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