Colleges have long known that veterans, service members and military spouses make great students, bringing discipline and a diverse worldview to campus. But for many years colleges didn’t know how to help military students balance school with a life of deployments and permanent changes of station—not to mention rules and acronyms unknown to the rest of the world.

Non-standard education

Today, online learning is transforming higher education and making it easier for non-traditional students—especially from the military—to pursue degrees, train for jobs and form professional connections, on their own time and in the environment that works best for them.

"Online programs offer access to individuals in the remotest locations—at sea, isolated areas, even combat zones."

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, over the last two decades degree completion among enlisted, active duty personnel has increased year-over-year, from 3.4 percent in 1995 to 6.5 percent reported in 2013—or more than 31,500 additional enlisted service members completing their degree programs every year while serving.

Online programs offer access to individuals in the remotest locations—at sea, isolated areas, even combat zones. It’s certainly convenient for a student to take classes in the local coffee shop, but the value of a service member being able to start class in the Kitsap Naval Base Starbucks and finish it in Kandahar? Priceless. Similarly, a military spouse living in Okinawa for three years can take courses while juggling family and household responsibilities—without putting her life on hold.

Lasting bonds

Online and hybrid programs, which combine on-site and online instruction, allow individuals living in a fast-paced, can’t-take-a-vacation-day world to miss class and not fall behind. Recorded material makes it possible, and online learning forces students and teachers to adapt their interactions to real-world situations. Perhaps most important, teachers become facilitators and mentors, helping military families successfully navigate their way back to civilian life.

Online education offers veterans, active duty, reserve, National Guard and military spouse students the opportunity to form a valuable professional network. These connections formed online not only keep students grounded during challenging times; they help military students go from being great in the classroom to being great in their careers and lives at home.