By Nick Duke
FORT BENNING, Ga., (May 15, 2013) -- Soldiers at Fort Benning and across the Army have the opportunity to further their educations, as the Army offers numerous educational benefits and opportunities to Soldiers, Family members and veterans.
While these benefits are available, some Soldiers may be unaware of how to access them.
The Fort Benning Education Center, part of the Army Continuing Education System, can answer any and all questions related to educational benefits, opportunities or a Soldier's future educational plans.
The education center also attempts to be proactive in spreading the word about educational opportunities, starting with briefings as part of each Soldier's in-processing to Fort Benning.
"We do in-processing briefings everyday," said Grey Edwards, chief of the ACES hub here. "This would be day one for the Soldier arriving at Fort Benning. During that time, we have a 30-minute briefing where we address all the programs related to Army education.
"This includes some things that pertain to them and maybe some things that do not pertain to them. But, we just want to give them a general awareness of all the programs that are available, whether it be college testing, basic skills, individual testing related to a college-level examination program …They can also come over to the education center if they have additional questions and meet with colleges, the basic skills department or our counselors here."
Two of the more common benefits that Soldiers choose to take advantage of are tuition assistance and the GI Bill. The education center and its counselors deal with both frequently, and can help Soldiers to access those benefits.
Tuition assistance can be accessed by setting up an account at GoArmyEd.com, and counselors are willing to help Soldiers work through the process.
"If they have a problem with setting up an account, we have computers in the education center that are designated for Soldiers to use, and we will sometimes walk people through the process because there are people with varying degrees of computer competence," said Ralph Bremer, a supervisory education services specialist. "Not everybody coming into the military is computer savvy."
Currently, tuition assistance is available at a rate of $250 per credit hour, up to a total of $4,500 per year, according to ACES.
However, acquiring money for education is just one step in the process. Soldiers must also develop an educational plan, something the counselors said they look forward to helping with.
"Everybody that comes in has a different need, so needs assessments are done," Edwards said. "Some may need basic skills and some may need graduate degrees, so it's a wide spectrum in terms of what an individual may need, whether they be enlisted rank, NCO rank or officer rank."
After that needs assessment, an educational goal can be made.
"In the beginning when they visit, a lot of them have no idea what they want to do," said Mike Hodge, a supervisory education services specialist. "They know they want to go to school, but not much after that, and that's when we take over. We look forward to those guys because we can create a program and a goal for them, and watch them as they progress toward that goal."
Bremer said they also routinely meet with Soldiers who have partially developed educational plans, and just need a few questions answered.
"We have the whole spectrum of Soldiers and involvement as far as what they have figured out and what they don't," he said.
The education center can also assist Soldiers in finding alternate means of financing their education, such as grants, external scholarships and federal financial aid.
"There is money, but there has to be a desire for someone to go to school," Bremer said. "You can't twist their arm. You can help them out economically and maybe try to help motivate them to go to school, but the final outcome is up to the Soldier's desire."
And while the center welcomes all Soldiers or Family members, there are also resources available from each person's home. The education center has a Facebook page, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/benningeducationcenter.
"Even if not everybody's able to attend a briefing, there's a lot of information there," said Hillary Bailey, an education services specialist. "We've shared some videos that some other education centers have done, which show how to do certain things step-by-step or talk about the GI Bill."
Soldiers enrolled in tuition assistance through GoArmyEd can also open a customer relations management case through the GoArmyEd website if they have questions pertaining to their educational benefits or plans.
In fiscal 2012, the three counselors at the education center responded to more than 9,000 CRM cases.
Overall, whether the questions or concerns come via phone, email or in person, Edwards said the most important thing for the center is ensuring that every Soldier is aware of the benefits available to them.
"We know that there are budget constraints and personnel constraints," Edwards said.
"Dealing with all the things that we encounter today, we're trying to still take care of Soldiers and Family members and eliminate the potential that a young Soldier might be unaware of what is out there for them. We want to give them whatever we can so that they can better themselves, support their Family and become a better Soldier."
The education center is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is located at Building 2602, 7184 Collins Loop in Soldiers Plaza.
The center can also be reached at 706-545-7397.
Tuition assistance covers one hundred percent of the total cost of tuition and authorized fees charged by the institution not to exceed the established DOD standardized TA policy of $250 per semester credit hour (or equivalent) cap and fiscal year ceiling dollar limits of $4,500.
TA may be used to pay for no more than one credential from each of the following levels:
Associate, baccalaureate, masters or first professional degree (Juris Doctor law degree, master of architecture, master of business administration, masters in social work, and so forth).
All eligible Soldiers must declare an educational goal in terms of a credential (diploma, degree or certificate), certification (national or regional) or licensure. TA will be authorized for courses required for the Soldier's educational goal regardless of delivery mode.
Tuition assistance can be accessed by setting up an account at GoArmyEd.com