Straight Talk

Time for expanding access to education for veterans 

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Dr. Ben Coulter

May is Military Appreciation Month, a time designated to honor and recognize the contributions, sacrifices, and service of present and past members of the armed forces. In North Carolina, there are approximately 94,540 active-duty service members and 43,056 National Guard and Reserve members. 

Beyond saying “Thank you for your service” and offering military discounts, a more sustained and impactful way to appreciate the military community is to ensure they have access to suitable housing, healthcare, and education. 

For currently serving members, the military offers programs that provide funding and support for postsecondary education. Individual military branches provide Tuition Assistance (TA) and Credentialing Assistance (CA) programs. 

Each branch, other than the U.S. Space Force, operates Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) programs, wherein every service member is mapped to at least one civilian license or certificate opportunity. CA funds service members to pursue professional certifications to help with their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) or post-military careers. More than 64,000 service members have used this benefit.

Unfortunately, funds for CA and TA programs offered by the U.S. Army are in danger of being reduced or eliminated. Army Secretary Christine Warmouth recently told Congress that CA is a “catastrophic success” due to the large number of soldiers taking advantage of the program. According to sources contacted by, the Army is considering reducing credentialing benefits in 2025 from $4,000 per year without a cap to just $1,000 per year with a cap of $4,000 during a soldier’s career. 

Another option the Army is considering is to cap the number of certifications a soldier could earn during their military career. Curtailing funding for these programs will critically reduce access to educational and career advancement opportunities for service members and veterans. 

Professional credentials document the attainment of sought-after or qualifying skills – particularly valuable as more employers use skills-based hiring – and can be earned quicker than associate or bachelor’s degrees. Many certifications can be stackable toward a degree, providing a two-for-one advantage. 

Every year, around 250,000 men and women retire from or leave military service. While the unemployment rate for veterans has been better than that for non-veterans recently (3% vs. 3.8% in March 2024), unemployed and underemployed veterans face many challenges. Veterans between 18 and 30 are more than twice as likely than the general population to be homeless.

I strongly advocate that our military branches strive to maintain and increase their budget to fund TA and CA programs. At a time when recruiting is down and non-commissioned personnel cite educational assistance as a primary incentive for enlistment and reenlistment, cutting these popular and highly prized benefits is decidedly the wrong move. 

During Military Appreciation Month and beyond, we should collectively advocate for increasing, not decreasing, educational benefits for all service members, past and present. This will help ensure rewarding post-service careers, positively impact our nation’s economy, address local workforce needs, and uplift the quality of life for those who have given so much in service to our country.

Dr. Ben Coulter is the southeast regional director for Western Governors University (WGU), and serves as chancellor of WGU North Carolina.