How to Evaluate the Value of An Online School & Degree


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Choosing a higher education institution and pursuing a degree while working, being a member of the US Military, and playing your vital role in raising a family is incredibly difficult. It is difficult because it requires balancing family, career, available time, and finding a quality higher education institution and doing all four simultaneously when under pressure, little sleep, and supporting a busy schedule.


How Do You Best Learn New Things?  The first step to selecting and choosing a higher education institution is to understand how you learn.  For most military members, they have been conditioned to learn best in an instructor lead classroom setting that combines individual, instructor, hands on, and individual study educational practices.  Understanding how you learn best is critical to choosing an on-line education vs. choosing a traditional, in classroom, higher education setting.  Just because an on-line educational format is convenient does not mean that it is the best higher education choice for you.  Most importantly, chose an education setting that allows you to learn at your best.


What Are Your Career Goals for the Degree?  Career goals are critical to choosing a degree.  If you are choosing a higher education degree to improve your military record for a promotion or another military higher education opportunity, then a wide variety of on-line higher education institutions and corresponding on-line degrees will fit the need.  However, if you expect the degree to be useful and effective when you are in the civilian world, then you need to be much more judicious in your selection of an online degree and the source of that degree.  Look for higher education institutions that are demanding and popular where you plan to retire or start your post-military career, that way your educational background will be familiar to employers in that area. 


Look Beyond Your Military Base for A Higher Education Institution. There are a variety of military higher education institutions that operate on military bases and actively advertise to military personnel and military veterans through online and print advertising.  Just because these institutions are on base and you have heard of them, does not mean that they are the best option for your education.  Instead, look beyond your military base and into your local community to find higher educational opportunities.  Many respected traditional higher education institutions offer online education. 


What Are the Educational Institution Outcome Decision Criteria to Look for When Choosing a School?  For most students, choosing a school means looking at the location, their personal idea of the brand, and maybe the cost.  Instead, military veterans and active military need to evaluate higher education institutions by the outcomes they deliver vs. evaluating a school by colorful brochures, an appealing website, or the presence of a school on a military base.  Military veterans and active military students need to select a school based these criteria:


  1. Percent of full-time first-time undergraduates awarded financial aid - Over 60% should receive some financial aid.
  2. Full-time enrollment - Over >2000 undergraduate students
  3. Graduation rate - Bachelor degree within 6 years - Over 50% Graduation Rate
  4. Full-time retention rate - Over 60% Retention Rate
  5. Total price for in-state students living on campus - Not More Than $27,000
  6. Total price for out-of-state students living on campus - Not More Than $35,000
  7. Percent admitted - Over 60%
  8. Graduation Debt (Median) - Not Over $22,000 Total
  9. Graduation Debt Student Repayment Rate - Over 60%


** There are 117 Colleges Across the US Serving 1,700,000 Undergrads That Meet These Criteria **


Even if you are not using financial aid or you are not using student loans, the financial aid rate for students and the student loan payback rates are all a significant element towards predicting graduation rates. Make your higher education choice based on the outcomes that the college or university delivers and not on a glossy brochure.


Are You Using Tuition Assistance (TA) Or Post 9/11 GI Bill Funds? Department of Defense Tuition Assistance (TA) is a great resource that will pay for some but not all your higher education. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is an incredible resource but it is a limited financial resource.  Do not use your post 9/11 GI Bill unless the school produces great educational and financial outcomes and you are maximizing your DOD TA resources.  Chose the school that you will use your post 9/11 GI Bill benefit very carefully and chose the school based on the outcome that it offers and not on the convenience that it delivers.


Pursuing a higher education degree is a great choice for your career when it is one of your career goals. Make sure that the higher education school choice meets all your long-term career and personal goals.  Are you considering higher education?


Other Articles of Interest: 

  1. Ways to Maximize Your Employee Benefits in the New Year
  2. Keys to Selecting a College
  3. How to Create Different Career Options For Success


Leaving the Military- USAA


About the Author: Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 280 articles in over 180 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics.  Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better.  Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at Creighton University.  Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.  Follow Chad @CombatToCorp and