Looking back on his decision to attend college, Scott Warren, who is a former Army Ranger and Purple Heart recipient, said it was a more like buying a used car.
"I basically bought into everything the diploma mill salesman told me," said Warren, including a hollow promise that most of his military experience would translate into college credits and supposedly cut his time in school in half. None of what was promised materialized.
It's no secret that vets like Warren are often non-traditional learners. Unlike an 18-year old fresh out of high school, former service members are older and may have families. However, they are eager to enter the civilian workforce armed with what they hope is a door-opening college or vocational degree. Unfortunately, most navigate the entire process – from choosing to school to applying and seeking out financial aid –alone. Meanwhile their future classmates have ready access to essay writing assistance, and alumni and guidance counselors familiar with the higher education industry.
"Finding the right fit for a school or program is critical to succeeding in college and achieving success after graduation," said Charlotte Creech, an Air Force veteran and military spouse.
It's why Creech and her business partner Meghan Brunaugh, a military spouse, founded Combat2Career, an online college search portal aimed specifically at vets.
Creech and Brunaugh hope that by accessing information like whether a school is approved for GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon funds, if there are dedicated veteran study areas, counseling services, a student veterans club, or access to veteran alumni, former service members can make a more informed decision about college.
Besides the growing database, C2C also hosts a network of current veteran and military spouse students keen on sharing information about study programs, housing options and classes, something Warren said would definitely have impacted his school choice.
"I wish I could have talked to people who had finished certain programs to see what value the classes provided," said Warren.
Once enrolled, clients – who access C2C free of charge – are matched with area internships or jobs, in some cases. And Creech and Brunaugh are also lending their expertise to universities interested in building out programs that Brunaugh said facilitate retention and ultimately job placement after graduation.
"Veterans are a demographic that need more attention," said Creech. "And we can help accredited colleges and universities to fill in identified gaps in say career services, for example."
Creech is no stranger to the stumbling blocks facing service members. Her husband, an Air Force reservist, was enrolled in an undergraduate program when he learned his unit was being sent to Iraq. The school refused to let him defer acceptance and instead told him he would have to apply again once he returned.
"He absolutely didn't get the treatment he deserved," said Creech.
Neither did Warren, who eventually decided his "useless" degree wasn't enough. He recently completed a Master's Degree in Global Management from a prestigious international business school and started his own business.
On August 10 President Obama outlined a new national action plan that includes pledges from some 250 colleges and community colleges to assist veterans pursuing higher education.
"It's a good start," said Creech, "but there is more work to be done."