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Education 101 for Airmen

Master Sgt. Kenneth May and his daughter Kensi May visit with a college representative at the education fair July 13, 2011, at the Peterson Base Exchange. All schools at the fair had to meet national accreditation requirements and be military friendly institutions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lea Johnson)

Master Sgt. Kenneth May and his daughter Kensi May visit with a college representative at the education fair July 13, 2011, at the Peterson Base Exchange. All schools at the fair had to meet national accreditation requirements and be military friendly institutions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lea Johnson)

Senior Airman Kimberly Ernst looks over information from a college representative at the education fair July 13, 2011, at the Peterson Base Exchange. There were 23 institutions represented at this summer’s fair. The next education fair is Nov. 17 at The Club. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lea Johnson)

Senior Airman Kimberly Ernst looks over information from a college representative at the education fair July 13, 2011, at the Peterson Base Exchange. There were 23 institutions represented at this summer’s fair. The next education fair is Nov. 17 at The Club. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lea Johnson)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Displays of backpacks, notebooks and pencils have started to line the aisles of stores across the country. But heading back to school isn't just for the youngsters.

On July 13, the Peterson Education Center hosted its Summer Education Fair. More than 20 colleges and universities had representatives there to answer questions about continuing education.

"It's never too late to go back for voluntary education," said Bonnie Rivera, guidance counselor.

Rivera and Heather Baack, education specialist, said one of the best places for military to start is the Community College of the Air Force.

"The CCAF is an associate degree program where members can get their associate degree in their particular career field. There are programs where they can roll that over and use those credits toward a bachelor's degree," Baack said.

The CCAF degree includes general education courses in math, English, speech, social sciences and the humanities. Rivera recommends taking one class to begin with and building from there.

Rivera and Baack are also able to help people look at other options for schooling to find the best fit.

"One piece of advice that I always give people who are looking for a school is to ask around in the field where they're looking to work once they graduate," Baack said. "Where are they hiring their employees from, what programs?"

Many people going back for voluntary education are concerned about the price tag but should also be paying attention to the accreditation of the school.

Elizabeth Golder, deputy director of the Interdisciplinary telecom program at University of Colorado- Boulder, said some schools appear to have a better price but may not have credits that transfer to other schools.

"In the end, paying a bit more money is worth more," Golder said.

Baack said regionally accredited schools have credits that are more easily transferred. State schools are all regionally accredited. Nationally accredited schools tend to be geared more toward adult learners and may not transfer credits to other schools.

Tuition assistance is available for Airmen and will cover $4,500 per year, up to $250 per semester hour or $166.67 per quarter hour.

"A lot of schools in the area are military friendly and coincidentally their tuition drops down to $250 per semester hour," Rivera said.

The Montgomery G.I. Bill and Post 9/11 G.I. Bill are also available to help pay for education but both Rivera and Baack said to make sure students have a thorough knowledge of how the benefits work so they use them to their best advantage.

Briefings about the Bills are held twice a month, once at Peterson and once at Schriever.

"It gets so complicated, there are so many ways you can lose benefit," Rivera said.

The final piece of advice Rivera and Baack gave was to make sure that students choose a program that satisfies their wants.

"I always recommend, go for a degree you want to go for. Not because it's going to get you a commission or not because it's going to get you the contract afterward," Rivera said. "If you're going to pursue that degree, nothing is a guarantee after that."

Baack echoed the sentiment.

"It opens up their options down the road to pursue whatever it is that they chose to do," she said.

For more information about education programs and services call 556-4064.

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