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Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges: Learn How They'll Save You Time and Money

The "pointy end of the sword" applies to not just military in combat, but toward progress. Any successful military endeavor requires educated and skilled soldiers. That's why the GI Bill, founded in 1944, and subsequent educational benefits and programs have been so important to millions of servicemembers. Providing soldiers with the ability to complete a degree is paramount, both for promotion and transition into civilian life.

Often, servicemembers have difficulties completing their college degrees because they are deployed to any number of different service areas. The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) was created in 1972 to address the need to provide educational opportunities for servicemembers. Today, the SOC operates in conjunction with 15 higher educational associations, the military branches, and the Department of Defense.

The "pointy end of the sword" applies to not just military in combat, but toward progress. Any successful military endeavor requires educated and skilled soldiers. That's why the GI Bill, founded in 1944, and subsequent educational benefits and programs have been so important to millions of servicemembers. Providing soldiers with the ability to complete a degree is paramount, both for promotion and transition into civilian life.

Often, servicemembers have difficulties completing their college degrees because they are deployed to any number of different service areas. The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) was created in 1972 to address the need to provide educational opportunities for servicemembers. Today, the SOC operates in conjunction with 15 higher educational associations, the military branches, and the Department of Defense.

The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges

Prior to the SOC consortium, servicemembers and their families often found themselves having to repeat courses or losing credit for courses that their new school didn't offer. In turn, the SOC created the following criteria for participating SOC colleges and universities:

  • Transfer of credit. Schools must assist servicemembers in avoiding duplicate coursework and the loss of credits previously earned at other educational institutions.
  • Credit for military training. Schools must award academic credit to servicemembers for their military experience and training.
  • Credit for nationally recognized testing. Schools must award credit for nationally recognized testing programs such as Excelsior College Examinations, College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests.
  • Limited Academic Residency. Schools must limit their residency requirements. For example, they are limited to 25 percent of degree requirements and cannot require a final semester or year in residence.

The SOC Programs

The Service Member Opportunity Colleges organization operates a number of programs for servicemembers and their families, including:

  • ConAP. Thanks to the ConAP, newly enlisted soldiers can be connected to universities and colleges at the time of enlistment through a partnership between participating SOC Consortium member schools and Army Recruiting Command.
  • SOCGuard. The SocGuard program is outreach focused, blending Army National Guard activities with postsecondary education opportunities.
  • SOC Consortium. Approximately 1,800 institutions of higher education have joined the consortium to provide associate's, bachelor's, and graduate-level programs to veterans at various military installations, school campuses, and through online education programs.

The SOC Consortium is important to servicemembers as it includes the SOC Degree Network System, a group of SOC Consortium member institutions that have been selected by the various military branches to provide specific post-secondary degree opportunities to servicemembers and their families.

The goal of the SOC Consortium is to help mobile servicemembers complete degrees instead of just accumulating course credits. Associate's and degree programs are provided for various branches of the military under the following networks:

  • SOCAD: Army servicemembers and their families
  • SOCMAR: Marine Corps servicemembers and their families
  • SOCNAV: Navy servicemembers and their families
  • SOCOAST: Coast Guard servicemembers and their families

SOCAD: Army Servicemember Opportunity Colleges

The Army selects degree-issuing institutions in the SOC Degree Network System to provide associate's and bachelor's degrees to servicemembers, their spouses, and their children throughout the world. These military-friendly institutions offer policies that allow servicemembers who experience regular relocation to complete their degrees without losing previously completed credit.

Servicemembers are able to move among universities and colleges in the degree network system without fear of losing credits due to courses not transferring. Most importantly, SOCAD allows servicemembers to complete their degrees via both traditional and online methods especially tailored to take advantage of their military experience and training.

SOCAD: The Program Step by Step

No matter if the school is campus based or an online college, the degree programs offered by SOCAD institutions are as numerous as any found at many state universities. Programs of study range from aviation to computer programming, business management to history.

Consider your training and goals for the future. Deciding on a specific degree path should be your first step.

Home College: Servicemembers must identify the institution that serves as their home college. This home college develops a student agreement with the servicemember.

Student Agreement: The student agreement is an official evaluation of a student's prior experience and education. This agreement summarizes all credit courses earned and outlines the specific courses needed to complete a degree. Your home college issues a SOCAD Student Agreement after you complete six semester hours of credit with that college. In turn, the agreement acts as a "contract for degree" between you and the home college--even after you leave the military.

Residency Requirements: SOCAD universities and colleges do not require more than 25 percent of a degree program to be completed in residence. This means you can take courses from your college from anywhere in the world during your post-secondary program.

Online Learning: Online college courses are possible ways to complete a degree while stationed overseas or away from your home college. You must complete 30 percent of your degree requirements with your home college if you are enrolled in a degree program that is completely online.

Financial Assistance and SOC

It is important to remember that the SOC does not specifically provide financial assistance to servicemembers. All tuition assistance is handled through GoArmyEd.com and the GI Bill is administered via the Veterans Affairs office. The tuition assistance program caps at $250 per semester hour and $4,500 per fiscal year. The Army pays 100 percent of the fees and tuition authorized and charged by your college.

You can use your benefits in any number of ways. One servicemember, for example, used SOCAD and tuition assistance to earn his undergraduate degree and transferred his education benefits from his Post-9/11 GI Bill to his daughter, who is now completing her degree requirements at a top university. Consider your options carefully and speak with a counselor at your school or base to figure out what combination of benefits may give you the most bang for your buck.

The flexibility and the adaptability of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Program provides the tools for any soldier to advance his or her education. In turn, the soldier's opportunities for promotion in the military are increased while he or she also prepares for life after the Army.