Why An On-Campus Experience Is More Valuable Than You Think

Air Force Reservist Jon Walters, 35, talks about his experiences with community police relations with his criminal justice classmates at McHenry County College, Nov. 28, 2012.
AP Photo/Northwest Herald, H. Rick Bamman

The professional and personal benefits of having a college degree in the 21st century are undeniable. Service members and veterans working multiple jobs while raising families see the value in devoting time and money to higher education. Unfortunately, they don't always consider applying to brick-and-mortar campuses because of a flurry of misconceptions regarding the experience and outcome of an online education. Online programs are notoriously marketed to service members by emphasizing low tuition costs and unparalleled convenience, but potential applicants are ill-informed about what an on-campus experience could offer.

The widespread demand for a college education at a fraction of the cost has driven the industry to create online parallels to traditional classroom exercises. Discussion boards went digital, lectures became videos, and real-time, document-editing software facilitated group projects. The rapid advancement of educational technology has paved the way for purely online degree-seeking programs to emerge, but such a remote educational experience does not always compare to traditional higher education. While online programs grow in popularity, I would argue against the “check the box” attitude when it comes to a college degree for multiple reasons.

Related: 5 things veterans need to consider about online degrees »

Despite what you might have been led to believe, it isn’t just about having an expensive piece of paper that makes you an attractive candidate to potential employers. A college education is about being engulfed in an interactive environment that empowers you to explore your interests, grow relationships with other students, and build a network of professional mentors from faculty. Additionally, veterans can further benefit from an on-campus program by using it to readjust into civilian life.

Regardless of the program, institution, or geographic area, attending college-level courses in-person is a completely different experience from online learning. In a classroom setting, students have the ability to ask questions and participate in discussion immediately. While the information is still fresh in everyone’s minds, it can be discussed, questioned, clarified, or dissected. Unfiltered reactions from other students freely speaking their minds is invaluable, as it teaches students about different worldviews and perspectives without censorship. The value of interacting with others unlike yourself cannot be underestimated, and online programs cannot fully facilitate the exchange of ideas and expression of perspectives among students like they are in a classroom.

Building a network is another essential part of getting a job or promoting your career. Despite technology’s advances in communication, there is no equivalent to real human interactions. Building a network is far easier and more effective when it’s done face to face. On-campus programs have the unmatched ability to pair students with faculty mentors and industry professionals in a way that is not possible through online programs. Even the personal attention students receive during office hours with a professor is enough to make the argument that online programs cannot fully replicate a quality college education.

Countless veterans have expressed difficulty adapting back into civilian life after service in the military. Luckily, colleges and universities are in the business of making their students feel welcomed and quickly assimilated. Students from around the world converge on a single location to live and learn, and that is something that cannot be replicated through an online education. With that said, there are endless ways for veterans to become involved in the community and adjust to a new social environment. Due to a probable difference in age, maturity, and experience, veterans have much to teach and learn from in such an environment.

Another reason for utilizing on-campus programs for readjustment that is often overlooked is the fact that most colleges and universities provide services to their students that are very similar to those provided in the military. Accessibility to dining facilities, medical assistance, counselling, recreation centers, support groups, and a gym are just a few examples of the many similarities between campuses and military installations that can help a veteran transition to civilian life. When they don’t have to worry about how or where to find such services, veterans can spend that time socializing and reconnecting with the community.

Some may argue that a student can receive the same quality of education through a balanced program of online and classroom courses. Additionally, receiving credit from online programs to cut the cost and length of an on-campus program is a common strategy, but still removes some of the in-person experience students are meant to have at an educational institution. For example, a business student may decide to take all of their communication or ethics courses online, thereby preventing a full exposure to group discussion and exploration of such essential topics.

Realistically, there is no alternative to the classroom; online programs will continue to have pitfalls that distance it from traditional on-campus programs.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

Walruses rest on an ice floe off Wrangel Island, part of the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve in the Arctic Ocean (Itas-TASS/Yuri Smityuk via Getty Images)

In a kind of odd man-versus-nature moment, a Russian navy boat was attacked and sunk by a walrus during an expedition in the Arctic, the Barents Observer reported Monday.

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The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

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A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

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