Military students — unsure of what to expect for online classes in the fall? You aren’t alone

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As colleges and universities across the country begin reopening for the fall semester, hundreds have made the transition to mostly or completely online learning. Online learning is common for military students, but the abrupt transition may leave some unsure of how to succeed in an online learning environment.

Online learning can often provide a more flexible education for military students who may be juggling a family, job or training along with their higher education. But for those who prefer an in-person learning experience, an online education can be a unique challenge.

Many colleges and universities went online in mid-March once the virus hit the U.S., and since then have been devising plans to reopen for the fall, whether it be in person, online or a hybrid option. As of Aug. 5, 26 percent of institutions still had not determined what learning method would be used for students returning in the fall, and many of those who have decided on a path remain open to change as the semester continues.

“I’d say higher ed, in general, at this point is still grappling with what to do for the fall,” William Hubbard, Student Veterans of America chief of staff, said. “And as the pandemic continues to rage on, that seems to change on a daily basis for individual schools.”

Both Hubbard and Emily Ives, the program director at UCLA’s Veteran Resource Center, said creating a daily routine is one of the most important ways to succeed in online learning. Ives recommended putting on normal clothes, avoiding distractions while in class and creating a designated study space as tips to adapt to a remote learning environment.

“Even more so now, you could book yourself back to back to back with meetings and appointments, so make sure you take breaks,” Ives said.

Ives said the Veterans Resource Office at UCLA successfully created a virtual office for military students to connect and ask questions. Staff being accessible to students online and being flexible with different forms of communication are some ways colleges and universities can continue to help students with remote learning, Ives said.

Tuition and fees are also a notable concern among many college students, as universities charge full price for an education that may be partially or completely online.

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“Now you have to find a way to justify an exorbitant cost for a class that otherwise someone could basically get by going on the internet themselves and teaching themselves,” Hubbard said. “It’s, I think, even more exacerbated by the fact that a lot of these universities are really struggling when it comes to their income.”

Ives said that although there is a difference with transitioning classes and services online, the same resources are still available to students, just in a different format.

Paul Lazaro, assistant director of the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services at Rutgers University Newark campus, said he expects student veterans to “assess the situation and approach it with the right amount of caution” when making a decision whether to do in-person or online classes this fall.

In recent months, Congress has passed a series of measures designed to minimize the impact of the shift to online classes for students who rely on GI Bill benefits for tuition and living expenses. Typically, students in online-only classes receive only a portion of the full veteran education benefits, but legislation passed in the spring allows VA officials to continue paying the full amount to students forced into remote learning because of the pandemic.

In addition, lawmakers have approved bills preserving work-study programs (and stipends) as those have shifted to online-only formats, ensuring that student veterans who rely on that extra income won’t see their money cut off.

However, those authorities last only until the end of 2020. Congress will have to look to extend those provisions if many colleges continue their remote learning plans into 2021.

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