Lagarian Smith, a Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant, wanted a degree program to fit his active-duty lifestyle. Since he works in cyber operations, a cybersecurity program was perfect for him -- and his career prospects after the military.
But balancing an active-duty military career, deployments, a family, PCSing and college classes can feel almost impossible until you find the right university.
A College Degree Is Important for All Ranks
A college degree separated the enlisted and commissioned officer ranks for many years. But in recent years, a focus on enlisted education has grown. About 8% of active-duty enlisted service members held a bachelor’s degree as of 2021, according to a demographics report by the Department of Defense.
Smith saw firsthand how his education helped him advance in the military.
Whether they are working toward their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees, service members have to work around their busy schedules.
“For two of the ranks I earned, they told me that one of the things that separated me from the pack was, at my current grade, I had a bachelor's degree, or at the next grade, I had a master's degree,” he said.
Higher education is also helpful when transitioning from the military to a civilian job. Smith has seen both a bachelor’s and master’s listed as requirements in the post-military career field he’s looking into.
Challenges for Service Members in Completing a Degree
Going to brick-and-mortar schools can be challenging for all service members, enlisted and officers alike. Whether they are working toward their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees, service members have to work around their busy schedules, such as TDYs (temporary duty), deployments, families and other commitments.
Universities that offer greater support in the form of shorter classes that start on a rolling basis are the perfect solution. It also makes a big difference to attend a university where administrators and professors understand the military lifestyle.
Smith found his perfect fit at National University, a veteran-founded nonprofit university that offers programs designed for adult learners and service members alike. Even though NU’s main campus is located in San Diego, its online platform allows service members stationed around the world to take classes at their own pace.
“They take all of that [being on active duty] into account,” Smith says. “They don't just see you as a student. They see you as a person with a life.”
He was able to finish his degree on his schedule while balancing career, family and school.
“Because of that flexibility, I had three deployments between me starting my bachelor's and ending it,” Smith said.
Setting the Example
As a noncommissioned officer and senior enlisted leader, Smith also led troops by example, showing them it was possible to complete a degree while on active duty. He also let peers and junior enlisted know how much support he received from National University.
With a bachelor’s and master’s degree to pursue a career in cybersecurity, Smith also holds additional certificates, all of which were made possible thanks to flexible scheduling and a university environment that supports the service member by understanding the demands of military life.
“As I get ready to transition from the military and I'm looking at these job requirements, when I see bachelor's and master’s, I smile because I've accomplished it,” Smith says.
National University offers flexible online courses perfect for all service members. Learn more about NU’s flexible course offerings and more.