Published on 2012/12/18

Civilian Education and the Military: Navigating Through the Weeds

Being part of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges coalition means a given institution is going above and beyond to ensure that veteran and active military students, and their families, have the opportunities necessary to complete a higher education certification without having to make sacrifices to their lifestyle or occupation.

When it comes to non-traditional students, active servicepeople and veterans must come close to being the furthest away from traditional 18-22 year old learners. There are a wide variety of ways that someone in the military can earn degree credits, many of which may be unknown to educators outside the military circle. This is not necessarily an inclusive list of these ways, but I hope it provides some perspective on how military and veteran students can progress through their higher education.

It is worth bearing in mind that each branch of the military services (Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard and each service’s reserve component) offers very different educational opportunities for their servicemembers, and requires different skills to be acquired and mastered in order for a servicemember to maintain their job. In the Army we use the term MOS (military occupational specialty) to describe a work position. This article will focus on the experiences and approaches from the Army side of the military, since that’s where my own experience lies.

When it comes to earning degree credits, there are many opportunities available to service members. For example, those entering fields related to Army intelligence attend Cochise College at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where there is a campus both on the Fort and downtown. Another program specific to Cochise College is Intelligence Operations Studies, which allows a student to receive an Associate of Applied Science in Intelligence Operations Studies. The degree program includes coursework completed by service members to meet MOS qualification as well as college-specific coursework. This allows servicemembers to not only qualify for their job in Army intelligence, but to also earn a recognized higher education degree at the same time.

This college is a Servicemembers Opportunity College (SOC), which is “a consortium of more than 1,500 colleges and universities that provide college level educational opportunities for service members and their families” (“Cochise College Academic,” 2012). SOCs differ from other colleges and universities in that they widen their base of credential recognition to ensure each servicemember has the opportunity to enroll and succeed. These institutions recognize “the GED high school equivalency certificate/diploma, learning gained from specialized training and experiences in the military,” and “establishes competency by a nationally recognized means such as standardized tests, maintains flexible transfer-of-credit policy for the mobile, active-duty or retired service member, conducts a timely evaluation of the educational records and relevant experiences of service members, completes a student agreement or degree completion plan for all degree-seeking service members.” (Ibid)

The SOC was created in 1972, and is made up of about 1,900 institutional members, which have established a subgroup called a SOC degree network. This network is selected by the military services to deliver specific associates and bachelor’s degree programs to service members and their families. Within this network there are three service specific subgroups:

  1. SOCAD: Associate and bachelor’s degrees for Army related personnel;
  2. SOCNAV: Associate and bachelor’s degrees for Navy related personnel;
  3. ConAP: A partnership between the Army Recruiting Command and SOC Consortium institutions to link the institution to service members at the time they enlist into the Army.

This consortium operates to make higher education more feasible and accessible for military students. It recognizes the work knowledge base of veterans and servicemembers, and ensures that learning both inside and outside of the classroom are taken into account. According to the SOC, the consortium “cooperates with 15 higher education associations, the Department of Defense, and Active and Reserve components to allow service members to better leverage worldwide educational opportunities,” and is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, in partnership with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, 2012).

Many schools—both for-profit and non-profit, as well as college- and university-level institutions—have established sites which cater to the mobile lifestyles of servicemembers and their family members. These campuses are set up to adhere to the SOC agreements with students. Thus, any institution that is part of the consortium easily accepts a student’s credits from courses taken from any other member institution. This is an invaluable advantage as it allows students at an SOC institution to know, with no worries, that the credits they have will be able to transfer to complete a degree with another institution that accepts SOC agreements if the need arises.

Furthermore, if the institution in question is part of the SOC system, in many cases they will not only offer online courses but many have small satellite offices close to military sites around the world allowing students to complete degrees with the institution that they began their studies with.

The SOCAD subgroup as mentioned above has these benefits;

  • Institutions have Army acceptable accreditation to offer specific associates and bachelor’s degree programs to army related personnel;
  • Institutions have military-friendly and flexible policies that allow mobile soldiers and family members to complete degrees;
  • Institutions have degrees offered through both traditional or online delivery systems;
  • Institutions offer a listing of SOCAD policies, points-of-contact, degrees, location offerings, and course transfer guarantees in the SOC Degree Network System-2 and -4 Handbooks.

SOCNAV offers the same highlights as above only geared towards Naval servicemembers and their families. Under the SOCNAV umbrella are SOCMAR and SOCCOAST, which also mirror the two groups above but are geared towards Marine servicemembers and Coast Guard servicemembers, respectively, and their families.

ConAp is the management side of the above programs and serves as a liaison between the programs, Army recruiters, ConAp Colleges, Army education centers, and the rest of the higher education community. These programs accommodate servicemembers, family members and veterans.

Previously, I mentioned the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES). This program is huge when it comes to the ability of a service member to earn college credit for either prior learning, military school knowledge, off-duty activities or other voluntary education programs run by the Department of Defense. The DANTES program sponsors a wide range of examination programs to assist service members in meeting their educational goals. Test control officers can administer these exams at any one of 500 military installations where the testing officers may be located. This program is great for the actual service members, but does not accommodate family members or veterans, and thus has limited use in the wider military community. However, it is highly convenient for the extremely mobile active service members.

Another way for service members and their families to gain college credit for prior course work or occupations is the ACE Military Guide Online. This system provides College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT), ACE CREDIT College and University services, Lifelong Learning Resource Center, and Transcript Services (American Council on Education, 2012).

Although it may not be common knowledge, there are many resources in place to assist service members and their families with expediently completing college or university degree programs. Educators, Student Services professionals, service members and family members need to be in-tune with information on any of the systems mentioned in this article in order to ensure that they are taking the clearest and easiest available path to their degrees.

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American council on education. (2012). Retrieved from

Cochise College academic military programs. (2012). Retrieved from

Servicemembers opportunity colleges. (2012, Sept 24). Retrieved from

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Readers Comments

Ian Richardson 2012/12/18 at 7:25 am

Cochise College’s Intelligence Operation Studies sounds like a fascinating and unique program. It seems to me that the military could use more such infrastructure-training opportunities that allow servicemembers to qualify for their positions within the military, but that double as recognized credentials to ease their transition into civilian life when that time comes.

This could take significant administrative and financial burden off the VA, and leave less vets scrambling to get a degree when they leave the military, and more vets feeling confident and prepared to enter civilian life.

Tyrese Banner 2012/12/18 at 4:31 pm

Veterans: do yourselves a favor and attend an SOC… not just an institution with a vague claim to be “military friendly.”

There are too many schools jumping on that bandwagon with nothing to back up the claim. SOCs are truly supportive and understand the challenges and strengths of military students.

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