During the last two years, many members of the National Guard and Reserves have been activated to support Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and other missions at home and abroad. Today, one-third of our armed forces serving in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia are members of the National Guard and Reserves. At its peak in April of 2003, almost 250,000 part-time members of our armed forces were called to active duty. The Department of Defense (DoD) estimates that as many as 25 percent of those reserve component servicemembers are either full- or part-time college students. Being called to duty potentially disrupts the students' lives by affecting their careers and academic pursuits, but for many, it may also cause undue financial hardship. Along with students, colleges and universities feel the impact; postsecondary schools face the loss of students, full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollments, and may also suffer the loss of employees who are serving in the Reserves or National Guard. Despite these challenges, the higher education community has responded well to support our nation's Guard and Reserve students who have been called to serve.
Higher Education Community Rises to Support the Called-up
As it did during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the higher education community rose swiftly to the occasion to support our Guard and Reserve servicemembers who had been called to active duty. Immediately following the events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Department of Education directed lenders, and colleges and universities to provide relief from student loan obligations by postponing student loan payments for borrowers while mobilized. Furthermore, it asked schools to provide full refund of tuition and institutional fees and encouraged flexible re-enrollment options for affected students. The American Council on Education (ACE) followed suit by issuing a letter endorsed by sixteen higher education associations (AACRAO included) to support the Department of Education's guidance and request. Also, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) issued a letter asking colleges to honor the Department of Education request and to review their policies to assure fairness to students who were called to serve their country at a critical time. Most colleges and universities adhered to the Department of Education's and ACE'S requests to support our Reserve servicemembcrs.
Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC)
Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) was created in 1972 to provide educational opportunities to Servicemembers, who, because they frequently moved from place to place, had trouble completing college degrees. Today soc is a consortium of approximately 1,700 colleges and universities, fifteen higher education associations, the Military Services, the National Guard, and the Coast Guard. Funding is provided by DoD through a contract with AASCU.
SOC has taken the lead to assist both the higher education community and the Department of Defense by maintaining a "troubleshooting" helpline for servicemembcrs requiring assistance, as well as serving as a resource for colleges and universities. Since 9/11, SOC has processed over 300 calls from activated or deployed servicemembers to help in resolving a problem with their college or university.
SOC's counselors overwhelmingly found that in all but a few cases, the institutions went out of their way to respond to inquiries and to resolve the issue favorably on behalf of the servicemember. Many of the issues were rooted in a lack of communication either on the student's or institution's part, and were easily resolved. Sometimes this was exacerbated by the short notice of the deployment and inability of the servicemember to contact the institution and make them cognizant of the deployment. Other times the problem was with interoffice communication and involved the sharing of student information at the institution. …