In the 20th century, long before online degree programs, the Department of Defense recognized a need to help service members who wanted to earn college degrees. One of the most difficult aspects of attending college as a veteran was the ability to transfer college credit and whether or not courses would be accepted by another college.
This was especially problematic for those starting school at one assignment, getting permanent change of station orders to another location, and trying to resume studies at the new assignment. Military members had a tough time finishing college programs due to a lack of transferability, so the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) program was created to help.
SOC meant the government partnering with colleges near military bases to reduce residency requirements for in-state tuition, finding ways to accept military experience as college credit, and give service members the ability to earn technical certificates and consider other educational paths in addition to traditional degrees.
Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges: A Necessary Resource
The SOC program would expand to include something called the Career and Technical Education (CTE) resource list, which included where to earn certificates in career and technical fields offered by “degree-granting colleges and universities”.
This set of resources was intended to help students, academic counselors, and military education advisors; this resource was distributed among a growing SOC network.
It may not be easy to understand the difficulty service members once faced in earning a degree, but back when there was no online learning and a common option was “distance learning” by mail or other means, SOC was a welcome improvement for military members and veterans.
SOC acted as an educational facilitator for service members; a bridge between the military and the college. As the program grew and expanded, so did educational opportunities for military members both from the existence of the program itself to the roles that Internet technology began to play in higher education.
The Rise Of Online Learning And The Future of SOC
As more colleges became involved in SOC, they reaped the benefit of offering college credit to military members for previous experience through increased military member enrollment. They also got the advantage of working with the Department Of Defense on service member education initiatives.
At the end of the 1990s and the start of the 2000s, the quality of distance learning, online education, and the speed of the internet itself would begin to improve, making college credit for military members and their families more accessible than ever. Active duty military college students began finding options for hybrid degrees combining classroom learning with distance education and online degree options.
The need to transfer college credit in some cases ended thanks to the ability to attend classes wherever the student was stationed in the United States or overseas.
The need to transfer college courses for military members was and is still an important one, but the ability to transfer individual courses was improving as well, no doubt in part to the DoD efforts to raise awareness of the military member and dependent family members‘ needs to attend classes from anywhere in the world.
But it was also a sign that the SOC program may have run its course; it would eventually become necessary for the Department of Defense to wrap up the program and move on to helping military families meet their higher education needs in a different way.
The End Of The SOC and The Beginning of the DoD Voluntary Education Partnership
The Department of Defense chose to “sunset” the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program, explaining on its official site that close to 90% of all service members using military education benefits are either involved in 100% online programs or some form of hybrid of in-person classes and online learning.
As a result, VA.gov says, issues related to transferring courses “within a degree network when changing permanent duty stations has diminished substantially.”
Add to that the idea that SOC member schools have agreed to a new approach to the old SOC concepts via something called the DoD Voluntary Education Partnership Memorandum of Understanding or DoD MOU for short; all higher learning institutions must agree to this MOU in order to be eligible to receive federal education funds via programs like the GI Bill. What is involved with accepting the DoD MOU?
- Reducing minimum residency requirements.
- Considering American Council on Education (ACE) recommended military training evaluations for award of course credit.
- Issuing Student Agreements that include information on applicable transfer courses and prior learning credits that may be counted at that college.
- Determining what remaining courses are required after the college credit for military experience and prior learning has been calculated.
Timeline For The End Of SOC
As of this writing, participating schools, “no longer need to report student completion/graduation data to SOC for Service members pursuing a SOC degree at their institution.”
On March 1, 2019, participating schools no longer report Student Agreement data for Service members matriculating into a SOC DNS Degree. The VA established the end of March 2019 as the deadline to remove all references to SOC in school marketing materials. The same date is effective for schools to comply with the MOU but not the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges-specific agreement which no longer applies past the deadline.
What Colleges Are Required To Do Under The Voluntary Education Partnership
Back in 2017, it was announced that the Department of Defense Voluntary Education Partnership Memorandum of Understanding application system would be considered “the central repository for Tuition Assistance (TA) eligible programs, associated tuition rates and fees, and policy related information.”
Following that, in 2018 the VA began requiring educational institutions “to provide tuition rates on an annual basis and ensure their DoD MOU application reflects tuition related information for the current academic calendar year,” and provide 90-day advance notification of any changes in tuition fees.
Furthermore, changes in tuition that do not meet that 90-day notification requirement “will be referred for a waiver in accordance with the eligibility requirements of the DoD MOU.”
Another aspect of the DoD MOU; colleges are required to establish policies that allow the return of “any unearned tuition assistance (TA) funds on a proportional basis through at least the 60 percent portion of the period for which the funds were provided.”
Schools are also required to apply the DoD MOU standards for transferring credits and other issues to any form of education offered including online learning, distance learning that is not online, in-person courses, multi-media coursework administered via CD-ROM or other multimedia.
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