The U.S. Army’s plan to shrink to its smallest size since before World War II is a reminder for servicemembers of the importance of planning ahead for a civilian career, including the benefits of a college degree.

Army officials announced in July 2015 that positions will be eliminated from most installations, with the most significant cuts occurring in Georgia, Alaska and Texas. Plans call for 40,000 troops to be released by 2018, bringing the size of the Army down to 450,000.

Additionally, 17,000 civilian jobs will be cut by 2018, according to an article on the Army’s website, www.army.mil.

Officials have cited budgetary constraints, as well as the need for a leaner military that favors technology and special operations over sheer size. Indeed, if mandated cuts to the federal budget continue, an additional reduction of 30,000 troops could begin in 2019, the Army said.

College Degree a Bulwark against Unemployment

For active-duty servicemembers planning for a future outside the military, educational qualifications are an important consideration. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterans who have a bachelor’s degree or higher had a jobless rate of 3.8% in 2014. That’s significantly lower than the 6% unemployment rate among veterans with only a high school diploma.

There are a variety of education benefits available to those who serve. While on active duty, servicemembers can use the Tuition Assistance (TA) program to earn college credits. TA benefits vary by branch but will generally cover most or all tuition expenses.

Veterans can access educational benefits through the GI Bill® and other programs offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is now the most commonly used, providing funds for those who served at least 90 days of active duty after Sept. 10, 2001. Under certain conditions, those benefits can even be transferred to a spouse or dependent.

Additionally, educational institutions may offer special programs and rates for military and veteran students.

Consider Your Interests, Experience and Financial Needs

There are many factors to examine when deciding what to study in college. Perhaps you’ve always been passionate about helping others cope with mental and emotional difficulties, making a clinical psychology degree a good choice. Or, maybe you want to build on your military experience by studying criminal justice; law enforcement is a popular career choice among veterans.

Other professional fields are expected to see strong employment growth in the coming years, including information technology (IT) and healthcare management. For example, jobs for healthcare administrators are projected to expand by 23% between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In the IT arena, employment of cybersecurity professionals such as information security analysts will increase by an estimated 37%.

Nationwide, the average growth rate for all occupations during that decade is projected at 11%, the BLS reports.

As more military personnel prepare to transition to civilian life in the coming years, education benefits such as TA and the GI Bill can put a college degree within their reach and help boost their career prospects.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill

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