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July 26, 2013

Pursuing Higher Education: taking that next step is the hardest part

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2d Lt Bari Yonkers

Staff Sgt. Chad Reed, 752 MDS, Medical Technician, discusses his education benefits and options with Master Sgt. John Brown, Education and Training Technician. Members are encouraged to seek out answers to questions regarding their educational benefits that can potentially lead to higher education degrees and promotions.

Making the decision to go back to school as an adult learner comes effortlessly for some, while it evokes feelings of stress and anxiety in others. For the latter, excuses usually come easily as to why it’s “just not the right time” or why “I don’t have the time” and those excuses quickly become like a broken record. The fear of returning to school can leave one stagnant and unable to take that next step.

As a civilian I work as a Military University Advisor for a major University. It is in this role that I have had the ability to advise hundreds of students on their educational paths and watch as they go from being scared of what their first class will bring, to wanting to double up on courses a few short months later. Some students are so motivated that they continue on into the next level degree shortly after completing the first one.

However, it is also in this role that I have also witnessed those that just can’t seem to take that next step. These are the people that always have an excuse even though they very much want to go to school and know that a degree can benefit them. These are the people who have so much potential but fail to take a chance on themselves and on their education. But why do they fail? Most of the time it’s because they don’t know what to do to take that next step and the whole process can seem overwhelming.

Because of this I sat down with CMSgt Paula Huck, Superintendent with the 452 FSS, to get her input on the process an Airmen takes to return to school here at March Air Reserve Base.

2d Lt Yonkers:
What advice would you give Airmen of any rank about returning to school?

CMSgt Huck:
I highly encourage everybody to go to school and obtain not just their CCAF degree, but their Bachelor’s degree and maybe even their Master’s.Today’s economy, today’s world is so competitive in everything we do. If you want to become an Air Reserve Technician or Department of Defense employee they are looking for those people that have degrees. Even in the civilian sector they are looking for educated people. It’s free, why not use it?

2d Lt Yonkers:
What is a common theme you see preventing people from returning to school?

CMSgt Huck:
They’re afraid. That’s the biggest thing. They’re afraid to start, they’re afraid of the process, they’re afraid of how to get started. They say “I’m too old for it…how will it look that I’m 29 and going back to school.” Well I was 36 when I went back to school and I’ve got some Chiefs that are 47 that are going back to school and we’ve got a MSgt who is 56 going back to school. The biggest thing is fear. Fear that they don’t have the time, they don’t have the patience or that they just can’t learn.

There is no age that is too old to go back to school just like there is no stupid question but a question not asked. Anybody and everybody should go back to school.

2d Lt Yonkers:
Who qualifies to use Tuition Assistance?

CMSgt Huck:
Any participating Reservist can qualify for tuition assistance and its $4,500 per fiscal year, $250 per credit hour. Every fiscal year it resets so 1 Oct you reset and you get $4,500 again.

2d Lt Yonkers:
What is the process for attaining a Tuition Assistance (TA) voucher?

CMSgt Huck:
All you have to do is go into the Air Force portal to the Virtual Education center, click on apply for TA and follow the instructions. This is after you do your annual TA briefing.

2d Lt Yonkers:
What can you tell me about the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)?

CMSgt Huck:
The CCAF is the Associate’s degree that is given to enlisted members and it is in their AFSC. Why it’s so important to the Air Force is that it’s showing that the enlisted care about their careers and their career fields.

2d Lt Yonkers:
What advice would you give for researching schools?

CMSgt Huck:
I tell everybody to go out and do an internet search of the schools to make sure they have the degree they want, to make sure they are accredited and also that they are military friendly.

2d Lt Yonkers:
How do you think online education has changed the way Airmen learn?

CMSgt Huck:
I don’t think it’s changed the way they’ve learned, I think it’s changed their ability to go to school. You have a lot of Airmen who work full time and have a family and it’s hard to get away and go to a campus. There are a lot of schools that are military friendly that do only online. They are military friendly in the way that they take our CCAF credits and they only charge us what exactly our tuition assistance fee is plus they give us their books free because they are all online.

Returning to school is a personal decision that requires an internal motivation to work towards a goal that at times can seem so far away. Fortunately, the ability to return to school now-a-days as a working adult is easier than ever before with schools offering online and night classes as well as flexible schedules. With these new options it makes the good ol’ excuse of time irrelevant.

Additionally, with the Air Force giving Airmen $4,500 per fiscal year, this allows for members to save their G.I. Bill or even transfer it to their dependants.

So whether you are just taking that next step towards higher education or are pursuing an advanced degree; education will give you a competitive edge as you rise through the ranks and pursue civilian employment. Ultimately though, education gives you something that no one can ever take away from you; your degree, your knowledge, your accomplishment. Don’t let excuses stop you from achieving your true potential…make an appointment with March ARB Education Center and go achieve greatness!

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