Stop Throwing Away Your GI Bill With That Online College

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, takes a moment to talk to Nain Gomez about some online college classes during his visit to the Warrior and Family Support Center on Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, April 17.
Photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo

For a veteran, online for-profit colleges are the equivalent of pot. It's hard not to do them when it's so damn easy and you know a bunch of other guys who are doing it, too.

Don't be that guy. Resist the dark side, and use your time in college strategically. It's an opportunity to prepare for real life. Translation: that means life without a guaranteed paycheck, a chow hall within 500 feet of your bed, and free health care.

The government is handing you everything you need to crush it. It's crazy when you think about the benefits veterans receive compared to civilians: tuition is covered, textbooks are covered, even a housing allowance. You are cruising on easy street. Why not use the opportunity and set yourself up for success?

Well, I know why. It's because you're tempted to take (or are already taking) the easy way out. Don't do it! Resist the urge to be an LPOS. Learn from the guys who came before you.

Some of us get lucky; we learn to avoid these crappy schools before we get out. I had a year left the first time a staff sergeant dragged me into the company office so I could help him pass an online test. Supposedly this guy had been studying the material for months and he needed me to answer half the freaking questions. This guy retained none of the material. It was like he hadn't even taken the course. After that, I knew I would never pursue an online degree unless there was no other option.

I'm not saying that college anywhere is easy, either. Figuring out the process is a bitch. When I went on my first campus tour, the talking turd of an admissions counselor just laughed at me. Apparently a 1.8 GPA in high school won't get you into Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Good thing California has a lot of community colleges, because that's where I ended up for two years. But after that, I had what it took to transfer to (and graduate from) Stanford University.

Could I have jumped right into a good four-year university? Hell no. I wasn't ready; not even close. It took remedial english and math classes, tutors, office hours, and assloads of studying before I was ready to perform at that level. Yes, preparing for college takes time, but it's worth it.

Of course, you can fast track a degree. Notice I said I wasn't ready for a good four-year university. Any moron off active-duty can go to American Military University, or Phoenix, or DeVry. Almost no one is challenged, truly challenged, at those places. You don't learn and grow nearly as much, and you certainly aren't as prepared for being successful.

Listen to me right now if you are starting college in the near future. This is one of the most important things you will ever read: If you take the easy way out, you are fucked.

Here's the real deal. These for-profit online schools do not equip you with the skills you need. They don't need to, even if they have plenty of folks working there who mean well. The fact is, they are set up to use you and your GI Bill to justify more federal student loans. They use you. Plus the default rates is much higher, since people aren't getting the jobs they were promised.

If that's not enough, you are also way less likely to graduate. Three for three!

Tell me again why you aren't taking your education seriously? Because you know a guy who got his degree quickly and was able to snag a job as a highway patrolman in Bumfuck, Florida? Come on, man --- that guy's main goal in life is reciting a line from “Super Troopers”during traffic stops. You can do better.

College is an opportunity for you to build a bridge between your military experiences and the rest of your life. In case you need a list, here it is. You should do the following things: grow and change as a person; learn all kinds of cool shit; meet awesome people; and start building an identity outside the service.

The confidence you gain from this process will be crucial because your "transition plan" (don't even get me started on that joke) will turn out to be worthless, and then what's your next step? Will you look around and scratch your ass, or confidently dust yourself off and move forward?

Don't think you won't face the chopping block at least once. The job market is totally different now; gone are the days of a lifelong career. My grandfather worked for one company after leaving the Army Air Corps --- he became a pilot for American Airlines. The military taught him an awesome skill, then he used it for about 30 years.

I've had 12 jobs in the last decade, and you will have at least that many in your lifetime.

So when you need that next job, what's going to open the door? Where is your alumni network? How many people have heard of your school? What do you think people are going to say when your résumé proudly displays a online Bachelor’s degree in patriotism studies from the Middle-North-Western American Technical Institute of America?

Seriously, feel free to go after that online degree. It's a easy move. Never really learn anything new. Never make new friends with whom you share memorable experiences.

I applaud you for staying focused on limping through an education while partying every night with the same people you've always known, then complaining your way into some shitty dead-end job.

With that attitude, you'll be telling stories at the VFW in no time. Grab me a $2 beer, would you? I'm good for it.

Treseder out.

William Treseder works for BMNT Partners, a government-focused technology incubator in Silicon Valley. He served in the Marines between 2001 and 2011, deploying to both Iraq and Afghanistan.


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