When Mike Black took over recently as assistant of director of financial aid and scholarship for veteran affairs at Ball State University and realized that most of his applicants were online students, he found himself in familiar territory. Black attended three universities before finishing his degree online through American Military University.
Q: How can online learning benefit student veterans?
MB: For members of the military, it used to be that you would attend the colleges around your post and then you would piece a degree together. That was my experience.
Today online learning is the viable option for active military. I’d say 98 percent of our military earn their degrees online. Your typical length of deployment at a duty station is three or four years. But with online education, you don’t have to worry about changing schools.
Online learning is all about time management, which is a skill that most student veterans have. You also have to remember that the typical military student is at least 26 years of age, married, has kids, has traveled internationally, and has totally different life experiences than an 18-year- old or even most graduate students. Classroom interactions can be “interesting.”
One thing online education does is allow military students to transition into the college experience and be free of distractions of an on-site classroom.
The online classroom offers veterans a diversity of opinions because online students are usually not afraid to challenge each other in the online setting.
Q: In what other ways does your office support veterans?
MB: We want our office to be a resource hub for veterans. Right now we have more than 400 students on campus and online who are active military or veterans. And we have a share of faculty who are veterans—and faculty who have pledged to support veterans as mentors.
The mission of our office is to inform student veterans of the financial benefits to which they and their families are entitled. We also connect veterans with the university’s Career Center, the bursar’s office, the Graduate School, advisors, study skills and writing services, and other resources. These are all available to online students.
Q: What should student veterans know about the application process?
MB: The college application process can be very convoluted for veterans. One of the first things I did in veterans affairs was to make a checklist of steps for getting started.
Before you can even get started, you need to contact our office — office of veterans affairs — with information about your service record so we can report it to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
- So my first step is to apply for admission. Easy enough.
- Second, you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA. You complete this form to ensure eligibility for maximum financial aid—even if you plan on using your veterans’ education benefits. You’ll find this application on the FAFSA website.
- Third step is to submit military transcripts or DD214 discharge documents. If you’re using VA benefits, you are required to provide copies of your military transcripts and your DD214 to Ball State. Your military training may translate to academic credit.
- Step number four applies only if you’re applying for student housing with Housing and Residence Life.
- Step number five is to attend new student orientation. For on-campus students, orientation is held on campus. Online students can log into orientation as soon as you get your username and password. And you can view you’re the orientation as many times as you want.
- Step number six is to visit the GI Bill website and learn what benefits are best for you. Or our office can help you through the process.
- And the last step is to visit us at office of veterans affairs and veterans benefits to complete registration for using your VA benefits.
I encourage veterans to follow these steps, as soon as possible, into the college of their choice.
Mike Black is assistant director of financial aid and scholarships for veterans affairs at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Black recently retired from the U.S. Army after 21 years of active service. His last duty assignment was with Ball State as senior military science instructor for the ROTC program.
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