As the State Approving Agent for VA Education Benefits, I frequently receive questions from service members, veterans and their families regarding benefits, eligibility and how to find an approved school or training establishment. Although these are important questions, I believe other questions need to be asked first about the individual’s ultimate game plan. So often I have witnessed decisions made about particular programs only to learn that the degree or certificate was not needed or did not meet the requirements. The benefits earned while serving our country are extremely valuable and my goal in sharing this information is to help provide guidance in with your plan.
From my own personal experience, being a student and attending college is not easy and requires additional time, resources, dedication and sometimes money. When the program is complete and you receive your diploma or degree, you immediately begin to think about your fabulous career opportunities and how your life will be forever changed in a positive way. However, so often I talk with students who realize once everything is complete, that the initial game plan or dream did not lead to the opportunities or career that they were expecting.
Honestly, there is no right answer to where to start as career requirements change over time and even while you are perusing training. But, what I can share is that taking the time to review a few key items in making your decision and doing a little extra homework can help. You don’t need to be an expert in the field of education and career planning with all the information available at from a search engine.
Below is some information that I wish I knew before starting college and that I have shared over the years with students and individuals to help them create the best game plan. Here in Nevada, there are lots of resources available to assist you as well as different education and training options to help you maximize your earned benefits.
Step One: Career Goals
A true story, I always wanted to be an accountant and work for the IRS as an agent. When I started college I didn’t have the same understanding that I do today. As a result, I made the decision to enroll in a program that I felt was well rounded and completed my degree in Business Administration. When I graduated and attempted to obtain work with the IRS, I learned that I didn’t have the right experience nor the right education to apply.
This story I share happens all the time. We hear about them in conversations with friends or family who are in careers that have nothing to do with the training or education they received. Even worse, are the stories of students who have a specialized degree but realize that all the jobs are out of state or don’t pay enough to support their family and lifestyles. They didn’t realize that their military experience can transfer to civilian career opportunities and may only require a small amount of additional training.
When working with students, I encourage them to take a look at what career field or outcome are they expecting once they graduate. There are many websites available that provide data on potential jobs, estimated annual income and skills needed or how to transfer military training to civilian occupations. Below are a few of them:
US Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/)
O*Net Online (https://www.onetonline.org/)
EmployNV (https://www.employnv.gov/vosnet/Default.aspx )
Nevada Department of Training and Rehabilitation (http://nvdetr.org/ )
Another question to consider is your future career plan. Will additional education be required? Do you have enough benefits or eligibility to complete your education goals? If not, what other resources are available to you?
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides several resources that can assist you with some of these questions and more. For more information visit: https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/get_started.asp.
Step Two: Determining Your Options
Once you have decided on a career path, it is time to start the selection process of where to obtain the training or education. I highly recommend considering several different options to ensure that you select a facility and or program that will lead you on a pathway of success. Not all schools and training programs are the same and may provide different opportunities and avenues.
Things to consider:
Does your future plans or goals require you to complete a program that is accredited if so what type of accreditation is required?
Accreditation is an additional recognition by another agency that has reviewed several aspects of a school or training facility. The accrediting body can oversee areas such as curriculum and development, financial competency and outcomes. There are three main types of accreditation; regional, national and programmatic. It is important to understand your future goals as some employers may only recognize a diploma from a regionally accredited program or may require a specific programmatic accreditation to obtain employment. In addition, when transferring between different schools, some transfer credits may be limited due to the type of accreditation from your prior school. In Nevada, all colleges and universities must be accredited by an agency recognized by the US Department of Education. For more information regarding accreditation: http://www.edsmart.org/regional-vs-national-accreditation/
Does the school or training facility have the proper license to operate in Nevada?
In Nevada, all post secondary schools, outside of the public system, that provide training to the public resulting in vocational outcome are required to be licensed. This requirement is to protect students by both reviewing the curriculum as well as providing the authority to ensure the school is in compliance with state statutes and regulations. The school should have their license to operate clearly posted.
For questions regarding licensing please contact The Commission on Postsecondary Education at http://cpe.nv.gov/
The Nevada System of Higher Education monitors all of the public institutions https://nshe.nevada.edu/.
Is the school approved by the State Approving Agency for the use of VA Education Benefits?
As the State Approving Agent for Nevada, I am the approving authority for all training and education programs. My ultimate role is to help protect VA education benefit programs through approval and compliance of the program.
To find out if a school or training establishment has been approved for the use of VA Education Benefits please visit the following site:
On this site, you can search by state, institution name and or type of training. When selecting a school, the site will also provide you the name and information of the School Certifying Official who can provide your assistance with general questions that you may have about VA Education Benefits and or the programs that are currently offered and approved at their facility.
For more information regarding my role and or questions about a facility please visit: http://cpe.nv.gov/Veterans/Vet_Home/
What are the graduation or success rates of other Veterans?
The Department of Veterans Affairs has created a comparison tool for you to use in your research in determining the best game plan. This tool can provide you with information about tuition and fees, retention rates and graduation rates. Also, many schools may be required to publish consumer affairs or gainful employment information that you may use as well in making your decision.
Step Three: Making your Decision
Before making your final decision, you should consider taking a tour of the school and if possible meeting some of the staff. This is a great way to learn about the school’s culture and atmosphere. Several Nevada schools have Veteran Centers and provide additional resources and or have opportunities for priority enrollment that may be important to you. In addition, you may consider looking at several schools before you decide on the right fit for you. During the visit or phone interview ask questions regarding scheduling, absences and opportunities for additional assistance. You will want to ensure that you understand your responsibilities in attending the school or training and address all concerns prior to enrolling.
Finally, before agreeing to enroll, please read the schools catalog. This will provide you with important information regarding the school’s admissions process and policies, satisfactory progress, attendance and conduct. Don’t rely on someone verbally answering these questions. In most cases, the enrollment agreement and catalog are part of your contract with the school and require acknowledgment of your understanding prior to signing. Failure to read and understand both documents can cause potential difficult situations in the future when problems arise.
I realize that after reading this you may have more questions regarding your game plan or selecting a school and that is perfectly ok. Again, the decision to continue your education or training should not be taken lightly and may take some time to find the right path. In sharing this information, I hope that you have some new tools and resources available to you. I look forward to sharing additional resources in future publications. Here Nevada, there are several agencies and resources available to you and your family. For more information on different Nevada specific benefits, please visit Nevada Department of Veterans Services at http://www.veterans.nv.gov/.
Members of the editorial and news staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal were not involved in the creation of this content.