By Scott Prater
Valerie Dietrich was like many military spouses who decide they want to earn a college degree. She moved from one base to another every few years while striving to balance the demands of raising children and helping support a family while attending classes, writing papers and studying.
Fortunately for Dietrich, she knew what she wanted to study and put a lot of time and effort into her educational research. Ultimately, she graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor of science degree earlier this spring.
All too often, however, military members and their families confront a more challenging experience when they decide to go back to school.
“We see a lot of people who know that a college degree is important for their professional development, but have no idea what they want to study.” said Nancy Seckman, Schriever Airman and Family Readiness Center career counselor. “We start by assessing their interests and we have a multitude of tools for helping them discover their talents and capabilities.”
From there, A&FRC consultants can help people find the right school and program, which can alleviate many issues and ultimately lead to successful completion of a person’s educational goals.
“Military members, spouses and families have a unique set of needs compared to the general population of potential college students,” Seckman said. “Many people out there don’t have to worry about transferability of credits because they know they’ll be in town for the next four to six years. Then you have things like accreditation, reputation, financing and online-versus-traditional classroom settings to consider.”
Like many spouses, Dietrich began college as a traditional student, but financing, family, work and life played havoc with her schedule. She first attended a university. A few years later she attended classes part-time and earned an associate degree from a Florida junior college. She arrived in Colorado with three semesters of coursework remaining.
“I chose to attend online classes through Colorado State University and it worked for me,” she said. “Getting a bachelor’s degree took longer than I had imagined, but my next goal is to earn a master’s degree within a couple of years.”
Michael Reyes, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs military outreach specialist understands how online coursework can benefit military members, especially when they are deployed or away from their permanent duty station for long periods, but says it’s only one important factor in choosing a school or a course of study.
“When we see people walk in with a huge number of credits on their transcripts we know the first thing they are going to say is, ‘I couldn’t make up my mind,’” he said. “We like to advise people to pick a major at something they can make a living in and don’t mind doing, but choose a minor based on your passion. Usually, if people choose two, they can flip their direction and have at least two choices wherever they end up.”
Of UCCS’s 9,000 students, 1,500 are connected to the military in some fashion, according to Reyes. Military members at the university tend to favor criminal justice, healthcare and business majors while spouses prefer nursing, healthcare and education programs. Likewise, 25 percent of students at Pikes Peak Community College are military members, veterans or family members according to Cheri Arfsten, director of Military and Veterans Programs at the college.
“Military-connected students are looking for an education they can take anywhere,” Reyes said. “We caution them, however, to shop around to find the right fit for them. When you think about it, education is one of the top-three investments people make during their lifetimes. They tend to spend a lot of time shopping for the right home and the right car, but some don’t put as much effort into finding the right school.”
Seckman agrees and cautions students to fully investigate schools before committing to any program.
“There are all kinds of institutions who know how the military pays its members for educational pursuits, and how much it pays,” she said. “People just need to know there are resources available to them, at most bases, that can help decipher all of their choices and navigate the process.”
For more information on choosing an educational institution or assessing a field of study, visit or call the Schriever A&FRC at 567-3920.