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K.L. Allen: Let’s not forget education needs of American heroes

Veterans Day is a time to recognize the debt Americans owe to our military heroes of every generation. But, of course, this debt is a year-round obligation and one we must recognize with respect and gratitude every day of the year.

But Veterans Day 2020 may, in many ways, be special because in this year of COVID-19 we owe an additional measure of gratitude to that high percentage of veterans who have returned to civilian life in new careers as first responders — police, firefighters, paramedics — or in critical health care fields such as nursing.

Today, these veterans are serving once again on the front lines, but here at home against an entirely new set of challenges.  These men and women are often working side by side with present-day members of the armed services and National Guard who are working on the same front lines, delivering meals and helping food banks, setting up emergency hospitals, and assisting with virus hotspots in our prisons.  We are grateful to them all.

I believe our nation’s veterans, in times of peace or war, not only deserve our thanks, but also our commitment to never forget their service.  This means acknowledging the physical, emotional, and occupational challenges facing veterans who have come home to a changing world.  It means ensuring that veterans — and their families — have access to the healthcare, counseling, and education they need to lead happy, productive, and fulfilling civilian lives. As an educator, and as an Army National Guard veteran myself, I know those things have always been true, but in today’s challenging COVID-19 economy it is doubly essential.

As commerce and industry in Ohio begin their return to “normal” from the pandemic, we are finding that our old ideas of normality have become very different. More than ever, good-paying jobs in the recovering economy will require an even higher level of skills and employers will be even more selective in filling those jobs.

Fortunately, this creates a job market in which a well-prepared veteran can thrive. That is because veterans leave military service as products of a system that emphasizes discipline, focus, and competency-based training. They are familiar with job-skills schooling that has been provided in innovative ways, outside traditional classrooms, and geared to the needs of the adult or non-traditional learners. This is exactly the preparation and attitude that today’s in-demand civilian careers require, and it makes veterans the kind of men and women that Ohio employers are eager to hire.

Today at Western Governors University, we are helping our students gain the additional education they need to turn their military or civilian job experience into an accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree in a broad range of programs. For veterans accustomed to the military’s competency-based instruction methods, WGU’s approach will be familiar.  Students earn credit toward a degree by demonstrating their mastery of a subject from previous work experience, rather than by how many hours they sit in the classroom or are forced to spend “re-learning” what they already know.

This Veterans Day, as we show our gratitude to the men and women who have given so much to our nation, we must never lose sight of the challenges many may face when they re-enter civilian life, especially in these uncertain times. For any Ohioan — including veterans — seeking the educational credentials needed to compete for in-demand jobs, Western Governors University can be the perfect resource. And for employers seeking motivated, tested workers with credentialed skills, WGU graduates can be just what you are looking for. 

K. L. Allen is state director of WGU Ohio, the state affiliate of online, nonprofit Western Governors University.