IT PAYS TO LEARN: An education can yield a lifetime of rewards

It is no secret - those who advance their education beyond high school usually find more job opportunities, make more money, and have more job satisfaction. You don’t have to pass college-level calculus to understand the math on this. Those with advanced degrees tend to get better and higher-paying jobs, not simply because they went to college, but because the job requires a deeper knowledge of the job’s subject matter. The “average Joe” will most likely not have that knowledge base. Though the rising cost of education can be daunting, a college degree is still worth it in the long run. Labor economists (those who study the relationship between education and earning) warn against the myth that a college education is not worth the cost. In fact, there is evidence which shows that getting a college degree leads to a lifetime earnings increase of hundreds of thousands of dollars, even after subtracting the cost of that higher education. That return applies to all undergraduate majors. A good example of the difference in pay for a job with or without a degree is the medical field. While most of the opportunities in the medical field require a college degree, there are a few that do not. In this field, jobs that do not require a college degree generally begin pay in the low $20,000’s and sometimes rise to the low $40,000’s per year. For those with a two-year college degree, the pay starts in the upper $40,000’s and can reach the low $60,000’s. Advanced nursing positions usually require a master’s degree. These jobs pay upwards of $100,000 in some areas. And we all know that doctors – who spend a long time in school – make the mega bucks. Nobody is saying you need to go to medical school, but the connection between education and a higher salary is clear. But what you take away from a college education is so much more than what you learn from books or lectures. Employers understand that people who have earned a college degree know how to learn and will be quicker to pick up new skills and knowledge on the job. Students also develop communication skills like persuasion and conflict resolution by interacting with professors and one another. In addition, because they are so busy, students develop time- and task-management skills to handle the many projects, deadlines, and other demands. It is hard to put a precise dollar value on education. But, at the very least, earning a degree beyond high school widens one’s range of career opportunities and chances for advancement. Many of the jobs that did not require a college degree before the recession now have that stipulation. And many jobs that previously required a bachelor’s degree now call for a master’s degree. Companies can afford to be pickier when it comes to hiring. They are looking for the best, the brightest, and the most-educated. ****************************************************************************************************** ###MANY OPTIONS But what if you don't want to go the traditional route? What if you need more flexibility in your higher education experience? Luckily, there are all kinds of opportunities. Here are some of the most common options: **Full-time on-campus learning at a college or university.** The most traditional route, this option enables the student to get the full college experience. He or she attends most, if not all, classes in a traditional classroom, and may even live on or near the campus. Many people call this option a four-year program, but an increasing number of students are taking longer than four years because they are working on the side or pursuing double majors. Others, of course, take longer because they go on to earn graduate degrees. This option offers the advantages of easy access to professors and classroom discussion, which many people find very helpful. This is the best option for students who want the traditional experience or students whose academic pursuits require a lot of lab time. On the downside, this is usually the most expensive option and may put students in a debt they would rather avoid. **Part-time/evening on-campus learning at a college or university.** This option lets students take on their academic load with smaller bites, financially and time-wise. It is popular with students who have obligations beyond school – part-time and/or full-time jobs, families, etc. Instead of taking a full academic load each semester, students can take one or two classes in the classroom on their own schedules. Many colleges and universities offer these classes at night so that students who also work typical 9-to-5 jobs can take the classes they need. Some schools also offer Saturday classes. The path to graduation is longer on this route, but this approach is also easier to maintain for older students because of their often extensive obligations. One option in this context is distance learning. The professor and a group of students are in one classroom; other students watch the professor lecture on screens in other classrooms. This option helps students who have longer commutes to the main campus save time and money by going to a closer location. What makes this option attractive is that it offers more flexibility. The downside is that it usually takes longer to complete academic requirements. **Online learning via a college or university that also offers on-campus learning.** Most academic institutions that have on-campus classrooms have extended their reach in recent years. To be more flexible for today’s students, they offer online classes as well as traditional classes. These online classes enable the students to view lectures, participate in discussions, and even take exams in their own homes or anywhere there is an Internet connection. Online learning is no longer a one-way process. In many cases, the schools require that the students mount cameras on their computers so that the professors can observe the students during exams and can see the students when they ask questions. Skype and other technologies make communicating visually over the Internet much easier. The advantage of this approach is that it offers a lot of flexibility: a student can take classes online when possible and in the classroom when necessary. However, it usually requires a good deal of self-discipline on the part of the student. And even with the modern technology, there is not a lot of student-professor interaction. **Learning at a trade or technical institution.** This is the ideal approach for students who want to focus on a trade that they can master and then develop into a career. There is still course work and some trade or technical institutions have basic academic requirements, such as English and history, but the main focus is on the trade. These schools start with the basics before moving on to the more detailed aspects of the trade, enabling the students to progress at their own individual rates. In many of their courses, these schools do not measure the progress of a student by means of classes or years, such as freshman, sophomore, etc. Instead, the schools issue certifications and the student must pass certain qualifying tests for each level of certification. Trade or technical schools are not all created equal. The better schools will offer the latest technology. In fact, this technology may surpass the technology at the student’s eventual work site – requiring him/her to learn to work with older technology on the job. But he or she will be ready when the employer “catches up” technologically. These programs are a good option for students who already work a full-time job because they offer flexible schedules. **Union apprenticeship program.** This is a good career choice for students who like to work with their hands and are willing to serve an apprenticeship for up to five years, depending on the trade. Students are encouraged to have good problem-solving skills and the ability to work collaboratively with a team. The apprenticeships are usually paid, so students earn while they learn. After completing the apprenticeship, the student usually has the option of taking a job where he or she served as an apprentice. ****************************************************************************************************** ###USE YOUR BENEFITS The best news for servicemembers, veterans, and their families is that there are benefits that can help pay for more education. While there are many options, the primary way most military-connected folks get a free or reduced education is through one of the GI Bills. Wait? There are more than one? Yes, there are actually multiple options. The two most well-known are the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty (MGIB – AD) and the Post-911 GI Bill. However, there is also the Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve (MGIB – SR), which is available to those who served in any of the reserve branches, Army National Guard, and Air National Guard. Other education benefit options include the Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program (DEA), the Fry Scholarship, and the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP). All pay for degree, non-degree, training, certifications, and licensing programs at VA-approved institutions. There are eligibility requirements and other restrictions to be aware of, but regardless of which way a student goes, these benefits are an excellent way to setting yourself up for a rewarding career. Below are further details on these options. **The Montgomery GI Bill - Active Duty** is intended to cover a total of 36 academic months, enough time to complete a traditional 4-year degree. To be eligible for this benefit, the servicemember must have served on active duty for at least two years, contributed $100 for the first 12 months they were on active duty, completed high school or the equivalent before they apply for benefits, and separated with an honorable discharge. This is a use-it-or-lose-it benefit. This GI Bill will expire after 10 years from a servicemember’s last discharge. Any benefit remaining after the 10th anniversary is lost and the initial $1,200 from the servicemember is not returned. The monthly benefit is paid directly to the student, who is then responsible to pay their tuition and fees from that amount. There are [four main categories]( under which eligibility is determined. **The Montgomery GI Bill - Selected Reserve** is available for eligible members of the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve. Members of the Army National Guard and Air National Guard may also be eligible. To qualify, potential students have to have joined after June 30, 1985, completed initial active duty for training, have a high-school diploma or equivalent, and remain in good standing in an active Selected Reserve unit. With this program, eligibility usually ends when you leave the Selected Reserve. For more information, please visit the [VA Benefits website]( **The Post-9/11 GI Bill** provides education benefits for servicemembers who have served on active duty for a specified amount of time since September 10, 2001. The Post-9/11 GI Bill can pay the full tuition and fees at school, provide a monthly housing allowance while the student is going to school, and provide up to $1,000 a year to use for books and supplies. This education benefit will even provide students with a one-time relocation allowance to move to the location of their chosen school. Potential students must have served at least 30 days of continuous active duty service after September 10, 2001 and be discharged due to a service-connected disability, or served an aggregate of 90 days of active duty service after September 10, 2001 and received an honorable discharge. Unlike the MGIB – AD, this program pays tuition and fee payments directly to the school. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is also commonly used with the Yellow Ribbon program (more information on that below). Another provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows eligible servicemembers to transfer their unused benefits. For more information on this program, [click here]( **The Yellow Ribbon Program** is a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The program allows approved institutions of higher learning and the VA to partially or fully fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the establish thresholds of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, including private schools or overseas schools. The amount paid towards tuition and fee expenses is not necessarily the same every year and funds may be reevaluated for a number of different reasons. Spouses and family members are not eligible to receive this benefit. For frequently asked questions and information on participating schools, [please click here]( **Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program (DEA)** benefits may be used towards a degree, certificate, apprenticeship, or on-the-job training. Remedial, deficiency, and refresher courses may be approved under certain circumstances. This program offers up to 45 months of education benefits, though some DEA beneficiaries may be eligible for up to 81 months of benefits. To become eligible, you must be the child or spouse of a servicemember who died in the line of duty, is permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected incident, or is missing in action or captured by a hostile force. Receiving DEA payments bars a child from receiving Dependency Indemnity Compensation payments from the VA. Children must be between the ages of 18 and 26 to use DEA benefits. For more information, [please click here]( **The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship (Fry Scholarship)** provides Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to the children and surviving spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty while on active duty after September 10, 2001. This scholarship provides 36 months of benefits. As with most of the programs, there are time limits (children must be between the ages of 18 and 33 and graduated high school) and other restrictions (spouse can not use benefits if remarried). Unlike DEA, the Fry Scholarship also allows eligible spouses to receive Dependency Indemnity Compensation while using the Fry Scholarship. Those eligible for both DEA and the Fry scholarship can only elect to use one of these programs. To learn more about the Fry Scholarship, [please click here]( **Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)** provides 36 months of benefits to those within 10 years of release from active duty and entered service between January 1, 1977 and June 30, 1985. Eligibility also depends on the servicemember paying into a contribution account during their service. [Click here]( for more details. These benefits have more stipulations and there is no way to present all the rules and regulations in this snapshot. To have all your questions answered, go to the [GI Bill website]( or call 888-GIBIll-1. ****************************************************************************************************** ###MAXIMIZE YOUR MARKETABILITY Furthering your education is about more than just attending classes and learning new things; it is protection. No, your local college or university is not going to give you new body armor at graduation. Rather, the further students go up the education chain, the more likely they are to make a healthy salary and less likely to be unemployed. As you continue to read, you will see that the unemployment rate tends to decrease as the amount of education one has increases. With statistics updated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in March 2016 we can see that education truly pays. At the time the statistics were compiled, the median usual weekly earnings for all workers were $860. The overall unemployment rate was 4.3 percent. To put this in perspective and showcase what education can do, the average earnings for someone who didn’t graduate high school was just $493 and their unemployment rate was 8 percent. Just having a high school diploma jumped up the average earnings by $185 a week and lowered the unemployment rate to just 5.4 percent. Not bad, right? But wait, earning a four-year bachelor’s degree shoots up those earnings by $459 a week to $1,137 and lowers the unemployment rate to just 2.8 percent. Simple math tells us that earning a four-year degree will add nearly $24,000 to someone’s income per year. And over the course of a lifetime those numbers really add up. But nothing is ever that simple. A lot of it has to do with what type of college degree is earned. It’s not a secret that an accountant is likely to earn more than a kindergarten teacher, even if they both have four-degrees. Location also plays a role. Someone living in New York with a four-year degree likely makes more money than someone living in a rural part of the country with the same degree. To further that notion, take a look at what jobs are available for the different levels of education. The BLS tells us that 39 percent of all jobs in the United States were in occupations that require a high school diploma or the equivalent. This is the most of any level and far more than all of those that require a four-year college degree and higher. But why do you think that is? Well, it doesn’t take a college degree to work in the service industry, for example. By comparison, 18 percent of all jobs in the United States were in occupations that require a bachelor’s degree. Just 2 percent require a master’s degree and 3 percent need a doctorate or professional degree (lawyer, doctor, etc.). Of course, as we detailed above, those professions tend to pay a lot more. So what is the bottom line? Your time in the military has earned you the chance to further your education. Use these benefits to get a step ahead and land the job you deserve.