Educating America's GIs: Speaks With an All-Online Military Friendly School

Sep 30, 2010

Thomas Edison State College (TESC), an all-online institution, was recently honored among the nation's top colleges for military and veteran students by GI Jobs. We caught up with Louis Martini, the school's Director of Military and Veteran Education, to find out what makes TESC such a great place for GIs.

By Megan Driscoll

Louis Martini Director of Military and Veteran Education Thomas Edison State College

Louis Martini

Director of Military and Veteran Education, Thomas Edison State College Your office at Thomas Edison State College is the 'Department of Military and Veteran Education.' Are most of your students with a military background veterans, or do you have many who are on call for active duty?

Mr. Martini: The majority of the students are active duty students. Thomas Edison State College has approximately 9,000 active duty students as compared to having approximately 1,000 veteran students. With what kind of educational background do most military students come to you? Is it common for them to be just starting their postsecondary education, or do many have prior college experience?

LM: Students come to Thomas Edison State College with their own unique educational backgrounds. Many military students transfer over their credits from regionally accredited institutions. The College also awards credit for American Council on Education-evaluated credit for their military transcripts, certificates and licenses, CLEP, DSST and Excelsior exams. Due to this, most of our military students and veterans are coming to the College with advanced standing toward their associate's or bachelor's degree. Many continue on to complete their master's degree with the College as well. Is there a typical age category for students with a military background?

LM: The typical age category for students with a military background ranges from their mid-20's to mid-40's. Many educators say that a military background gives students a variety of advantages. What unique strengths do veterans bring to the table, both in academia in general and at your institution?

LM: With so many of our recent veteran students having been forward deployed they bring a totally different perspective than someone who has not experienced the battlefield. They tend to be very serious students that are committed to obtaining their educational goals. Active military and military veteran students are often singled out as two groups that face unique challenges in higher education. Can you describe what challenges these groups face and how those hurdles might differ between the two groups?

LM: The greatest challenge the active military student faces is the ability to complete courses while being deployed. The fact that Internet connectivity is not always available can make it hard for students to contact their instructors and complete assignments. In addition, students may be in hostile environments with their locations being attacked while they are trying to complete their assignments.

When both active duty students and veterans return home there is a transition period that most need to go through before they can concentrate fully on their studies. What does Thomas Edison State College do to meet those needs? Can you describe any special activities, clubs and outreach services that you offer for students with a military background?

LM: Thomas Edison State College will make every reasonable accommodation for military students who are involuntarily activated. This includes allowing students to have course extensions so they can complete courses through distance learning while deployed and re-enrolling students in courses when they return. In addition, the Office of Military and Veteran Education will work with students and instructors to ensure that individuals are receiving the support required for them to be successful despite their situation. What is your role in these efforts as the Director of Military and Veteran Education?

LM: One role is acting as the student ombudsman in all issues our military students may encounter. These issues include getting extensions or deferments due to deployments and issues with professors not understanding how students are affected by deployment.

Thomas Edison State College Military Friendly School

Thomas Edison State College TESC was recently listed as one of the country's top Military Friendly Schools by Not all colleges can be a 'top MFS,' but more and more are trying to accommodate our veteran population. What recommendations do you have for other postsecondary institutions that are trying to become more military friendly? Are there any quick changes that a school can make to move in this direction?

LM: Thomas Edison State College has been providing specialized education opportunities for members of the United States military for more than 35 years. Other institutions can start by developing degree programs and certificates specifically for enlisted personnel that optimize their military training and experience. Thomas Edison State College is a long-standing member of the Servicemembers Opportunity College (SOC) and is a SOC Network member institution. The College participates in the GoArmyEd programs and the Navy College Program Distance Learning Partnership. It is also a Level One provider for both the Coast Guard Institute and the Army National Guard Education Support Center. We have also been selected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a participating institution of the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program. These are just some programs that other institutions can become involved with to become more military friendly.

A quick change that any school trying to become more military friendly should do is adopt the 'SOC Principles of Good Practice.' This is the basis for properly serving our military and veteran population. One of the things that makes TESC stand out is your all-virtual campus. Students complete their courses online, through the mail or as independent studies. What unique advantages does this model have for veterans? Are there any disadvantages, such as services you could more easily offer if students gathered on campus?

LM: I think you must realize that 725 of all active duty military students taking college courses are taking them online. The Thomas Edison State College model enables the veteran student to continue completing their courses the way they are most comfortable doing them. Due to the technology that is available to us today, there are very few things that cannot be done remotely that can be done in a face-to-face environment. What types of academic programs would you say are most popular with military vets?

LM: There is really not a particular academic program that is more popular for veterans. It depends on what the individual educational goals of the individual are. One of the benefits of Thomas Edison State College is the multitude of academic programs that are available to the students. We have many veterans among our readers, and we'd love to have you offer them some advice. What is the most important thing they should consider as they search for the right school?

LM: The number one thing a student should look at when choosing a school is whether an institution meets his or her education goals. If a student wants to go on and complete a higher level of learning, he or she needs to make sure an institution is regionally accredited. This will allow them to go on to complete their masters or other higher-level degree without having to worry their undergraduate degree will not being recognized.

Students should consider a college that will optimize what college-level learning they have already achieved. Academics and flexibility also allow students to know they're attending institutions willing to adapt to their unique circumstances. Do you have any 'survival tips' to help veterans and military students navigate the system once they start their education?

LM: At Thomas Edison State College, the Office of Military and Veteran Education provides all the support that a student requires; we work with students from the initial inquiry through graduation. Students may call 1-866-466-1804 to reach any of our Regional Military Base Counselors who are located throughout the United States and on call 24 hours a day. We work with our military students throughout the life cycle of their education.

Veteran and military students should find similar offices on their campuses with resources they need. Many institutions now have veteran clubs and other groups where veterans can associate with people that have similar experiences and backgrounds. This can make the veteran student feel more at home in an institution. Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share any further information you'd like about military and veteran education, both at TESC and in the greater world of academia.

LM: My advice to students would be to make sure they look beyond the marketing of an institution to determine whether schools are truly going to provide the educational opportunities that meet individuals' academic goals.

Don't miss the 2011 Guide to Military Friendly Schools.

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