Shortest path to degree not always the smartest

Feb 27, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Frances L. Goch, MCAS Miramar

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Feb. 27, 2007) -- In recent weeks, Ashland College representatives came on station without command approval and provided education briefs to Marines and sailors.

The college is not a Service Member’s Opportunity College, or SOC. Command approval is only given to SOC schools.

The incident skylined several education scams that target service members.

Scams range from charging for educational resources that service members can get free of charge to requiring students to sign a contract demanding a minimum course enrollment. Some institutions even promise the academic equivalent to “get rich quick” schemes.

“The quickest route to a degree isn’t always the best,” said Gunnery Sgt. Scott Cavanagh, education director here. “The first rule is: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

One scam prevalent in southern California is the college-level examination program scam or CLEP scam. Sales representatives, usually at booths in malls, sell encyclopedias and study guides for the CLEP tests.

However, service members need not pay for these guides as military education offices provide them at no cost and the encyclopedias are often available online for free.

In some scams, the legitimacy of the college is in question. Service members should thoroughly research all colleges they consider.

By thoroughly researching academic institutions, service members can avoid putting time and money into a diploma mill - a college or university that operates outside of oversight by the state or a professional agency. The degrees earned at these institutions are essentially worthless.

Identifying degree mills can present a challenge, and their names closely resemble actual accredited schools.

“You should never have to sign a contract requiring you to take a minimum number of courses,” Cavanagh warned. “If you are required to register or you have to give personal information before you can view course fees, you may want to think twice about that school.”

Service members often pursue their college degrees through online education as the nomadic nature of military life may preclude attending a brick and mortar school.

Service members considering online courses should ensure quality, readily accessible technical, administrative and academic support is available.

Service members should also familiarize themselves with the institutions’ policy of accepting CLEP, Dante’s Subject Standardized Tests and Excelsior exams, as these tests provide an opportunity to test out of some general education courses, saving the service member time and money.

By choosing a SOC service members can more easily manage challenges unique to military life.
SOCs are a network of more than 1,800 colleges and universities that have recognized and responded to the educational needs and issues encountered by service members.

Although service members do not have to enroll in SOC institutions, it does alleviate many problems when transferring credits between schools. Also, not all non-SOC institutions are eligible for tuition assistance.

If at any time service members need advice about choosing schools, the education office urges them to stop in and talk to the counselors.

“In the end, it comes back to the same thing,” said Cavanagh. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Helping Marines, sailors and their families find institutions that will grant a legally accredited degree is what the education center is here for.”

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