Exclusive: Many Military in South Carolina Are Earning College Credits While They Serve

Richard Breen

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

When Brian Rauschenbach was in the Air Force, he took college-level courses to become better trained in his duties, but they came with additional mandates to take classes in science, math and the arts.

Those general education requirements had a secondary benefit of setting him up for academic success when he left the military.

“I used the G.I. Bill after I got out to finish up my degree,” he said. Holding a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Rauschenbach is now a project manager with Sumter Economic Development.

At any given time, there are thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines all over South Carolina taking classes that can earn them anything from vocational certifications to an MBA. Many of them eventually put that education to use in the state’s private-sector workforce.

“I’ve found that the motivations for military service members to further their education are very similar, if not the same, as members of the civilian community,” said Mark Story, education services officer with Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island.

Story said that since October 2018 (the start of the 2019 federal fiscal year), 881 individual active-duty Marines at Beaufort and Parris Island have used the tuition assistance program to take 2,382 classes through 101 different schools. That doesn’t include active-duty spouses or Department of Defense civilian employees receiving tuition assistance, or active-duty service members and veterans using GI Bill benefits to attend college.

Most courses are taken online, but classroom-based instruction is offered through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Park University, Technical College of the Lowcountry and the University of South Carolina Beaufort. USC’s Columbia campus also recently opened a regional site for its professional MBA program at Parris Island.

“The structure of the PMBA program is designed for working professionals by offering live classes in Columbia and video-conferenced classes in regional locations,” said USC’s Libby Hendley, the program’s managing director.

Story said pursing an MBA while in the military can help one’s career prospects. Whether or not someone has a degree can play a factor in promotions, according to Jude Marranco, education services officer at Fort Jackson in Columbia.

During the 2018 academic year, more than 4,000 courses were taken by active-duty military, guard, reserve, DOD civilians and local community civilians through Fort Jackson, the U.S. Army’s largest basic training installation.

“We have four, on-base colleges,” Marranco said. Claflin University, Midlands Technical College, USC and Webster University offer a range of classes from associate degree programs to graduate-level courses.

Marranco said course offerings combined with tuition assistance serve as a retention tool. Supporting service members in achieving their educational goals also equips them to support their military mission, according to 2nd Lt. Samuel Swanson at Joint Base Charleston.

During the current fiscal year, the Joint Base Charleston Education Center has supported 840 service members with 2,185 individual class enrollments through 117 different schools, Swanson said. Some are taking classes toward an associate degree through the Community College of the Air Force.

“For those who are working towards their bachelor’s degree, organization management, aviation technology and business are three of the most popular fields,” Swanson said.

Story said Marines at his location are most often studying various aviation, healthcare, law enforcement and business programs.

Rauschenbach got his degree through Saint Leo University, one of five colleges that operate at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. The others are Central Carolina Technical College, Embry-Riddle, USC Sumter and Webster.

In Sumter and other parts of South Carolina that are home to military installations, the impact on the workforce is significant, Rauschenbach said. According to a 2017 economic impact study prepared by USC for the S.C. Military Base Task Force, there are 417,515 veterans, including 56,969 military retirees, living in South Carolina. Nearly half of those military retirees are under the age of 65.

In addition to the college opportunities available, service members often learn trades that can be applied in the private sector. Rauschenbach also mentions the soft skills that are picked up, such as teamwork, meeting deadlines and leadership.

“The employers really want to hire veterans because they have those skills,” he said. “We have a lot of veterans living and working in the Sumter community and our employers love them.”