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Updated | Robert Haynes
VA Approved Correspondence Education
A Personal Tribute to Correspondence Courses
When I was a young soldier in the mid-1990s, correspondence courses were a big thing. I would go through a large paper catalog, select courses that sounded interesting, and weeks later they would arrive in the mail.
Once I got those courses, I read the material and took the tests before sending them back to be graded. It was pretty easy and it worked well around my busy schedule as a Soldier. The best part was, completing military correspondence courses awarded promotion points. Needless to say, I did as many courses as I could.
And then, the internet happened.
I was slow to adopt the opportunities found in a connected society. In fact, I didn’t get an email address until 1999, a Hotmail account, in fact. You can’t even get those anymore, which is probably why I still have mine.
In any case, once the paper correspondence courses were phased out, I looked for other means to get promotion points. I found a flyer in a magazine promoting a school that offered an associate’s degree completely by correspondence. There were only a few subject areas, but getting a degree would grant me a lot of promotion points.
Since I was already used to the correspondence method of learning, I mailed in the flyer. Within months, I was studying for a degree with courses through the mail.
I did not end up finishing that degree, as the Army moved me around and then the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started. It was a challenge to have stuff mailed to me overseas, and some of my tests had not arrived at the school. So, I let the dream of a degree go until I retired many years later.
Correspondence Training & The VA
Believe it or not, in this age of technological advancement, the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence, and thousands of ways to get an education, correspondence courses are still a thing.
Much like the few remaining bookstores that did not get torpedoed by the rise of Amazon, there are still a handful of schools that offer degrees, diplomas, and career certificates completely via correspondence courses.
The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes that the correspondence methodology may be a good fit for some students, especially those that wish to take classes from home, and they are too far from any institutes of higher learning.
But why not just do courses online like everyone else?
Great question, and there is an answer. When you enroll in online courses at a college or university, you are still held to a timeline for the submission of assignments and the completion of all coursework. For example, my online graduate courses lasted anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks, and there were assignments that were due each week.
In a correspondence setting, a student can work at their own pace, often balancing family and work obligations like online students. However, they do not have the same regimented timeline for the completion of their coursework. In fact, some students can take months to complete one course if that’s all they can do with their schedule.
The fact remains that the correspondence course programs are a viable option for some students who wish to further their education. Not all of us go to college right out of high school. Some of us had to serve in the military to get money for college. And still others are single parents who are working three jobs just to feed their kids.
Are Self-Paced Programs Credible?
When the pandemic forced colleges and universities to embrace online delivery for their classes, it caused a paradigm shift away from the mentality that online learning was substandard to in-person learning. In much the same way, correspondence courses are often seen as sub-par when it comes to the rigidity of the instruction.
But keep in mind, these schools offering correspondence courses undergo the same evaluation and accreditation by the VA as other brick and mortar schools in order for GI Bill benefits to be used at those institutions. So, if they are evaluated in the same way, and they are still approved by the VA, then it stands to reason that there is some value in the education available.
As with most learning paths, you get out what you put into it. If you want to learn and you apply yourself to the subject matter, then you will have positive outcomes regardless of whether you’re an in-person, online, or correspondence student.
Institutions Offering Correspondence Courses
The following institutions are the only ones still in business that offer correspondence programs that are approved by the VA. While I recognize that this list is smaller than in years past, and it may get smaller as time moves forward, these schools and the programs they offer still provide a quality education to some students.
Founded in 1987, Ashworth started out as a family-owned school offering only one course in Real Estate Appraisal. Now, the school offers associate and bachelor degrees in over 20 subject areas.
Additionally, Ashworth offers career certificates and diplomas that allow for faster completion in numerous in-demand job fields. They also have a curriculum that allows students to finish high school.
Degrees are available in the following subject areas:
- Computer Information Systems
- Construction Management
- Criminal Justice
- Early Childhood Education
- Healthcare Administration
- Paralegal Studies
- Veterinary Technician
Based out of Fort Collins, Colorado, this correspondence school has one offering:
This course of instruction provides training in Healthcare Documentation which can lead to careers in hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, and any place that requires the processing of medical claims. The program also covers training in the use and employment of Electronic Health Records.
Blackstone is considered to be one of the oldest correspondence schools in America, having served students since 1890. Today, it is a private, licensed distance education school that offers affordable and flexible programs.
Specifically for military and veteran students, Blackstone accepts both the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills. It is also accredited by the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account program, and it was labeled by GI Jobs as a Top Military Friendly School.
Blackstone offers online, self-paced programs in the following career fields:
- Veterinary Assistance
- Pharmacy Technician
- Medical Billing & Coding
- Physical Therapy Aide
- Medical Office Assistant
- Home Health Aide
- Dental Office Assistant
- Medical Transcription
- Child Care Provider
One cool thing that separates Blackstone from other correspondence institutions is that they host a Paralegal Program for the Incarcerated. This program allows for inmates to gain valuable and marketable skills in the Paralegal profession while still in prison. This program helps lead to gainful employment once inmates are released back into society.
The Modern Gun School is the only VA approved institution that offers instruction in Gunsmithing. They proudly accept both the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bill programs, and they have been training gunsmiths since 1946.
The MGS offers two programs to those students looking to break into gun repair:
In their Advanced Gunsmithing Course, which is it’s most popular among military veterans, students will receive over $300 worth of tools and materials, an FFL Kit, and a number of hands-on projects.
As an added bonus, the Modern Gun School is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
The National Tax Training School has trained successful income tax preparers for over 60 years. They started out giving lessons by mail and have transitioned to offering interactive courses of instruction to distance students.
National Tax offers two tax training courses:
Additionally, National Tax offers an IRS Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP) Course. Tax return preparers who complete this course are listed in the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers, which is a great credential to have.
The National Tax Training School is also accredited and certified by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program, and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
Penn Foster has been training students for over 125 years. They offer over 100 self-paced programs for in-demand career fields. They host a College, a Career School, and a High School, to accommodate every level of student and career seeker.
Penn Foster accepts military education benefits, including:
- The Montgomery GI Bill
- The Post-9/11 GI Bill
- Veterans Educational Assistance Program
- The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program
Most other correspondence schools only accept the GI Bill, which sets Penn Foster apart from the rest. The school boasts an annual student enrollment of over 300,000 each year.
Penn Foster’s course offering span many of today’s most in-demand career fields, including:
- Business Programs like Accounting and Business Management
- Computer and Electronics Programs like IT Support Specialist and Computer Programming
- Legal Programs like degrees in Criminal Justice and Paralegal Studies
- Healthcare Programs like Pharmacy Technician and Medical Administrative Assistant
These are just a few of the subject areas for which Penn Foster offers 2- and 4-year degrees or certificates.
The University of Florida has a Flexible Learning Department where students can take courses without even being registered students with UF.
The Flexible Learning Program allows for students to take actual college courses from the university, for credit, which can then be applied to degree programs at the UF or other colleges and universities.
This approach by the University of Florida is unique in that students are taking general education courses a la carte, like math, psychology, and even foreign languages. What makes UF’s approach different from other correspondence programs is that students do not have to select a specific degree or program of study before taking classes, or even at all.
This correspondence school was founded in California in 1981 as the Notereader Career Institute. Their name changed a couple of times over the years, but in 2005, they settled on the U.S. Career Institute.
The USCI offers career certificates in the healthcare, business, and legal career fields, as well as a high school curriculum.
Furthermore, the school offers self-paced Associate degrees in:
- Business Management
- Health Information Technology
- Human Resources
- Medical Specialties
- Social Work
While most of these programs can be completed in under 18 months, USCI proudly allows students to work at their own pace and to complete their degrees on their own timeline.
VA Pays for Correspondence Training
Now that you know what correspondence training is and which schools offer those programs, how exactly can you use your VA education benefits to pay for them?
The VA states the following when it comes to using your GI Bill benefits for correspondence training:
“We’ll pay you back for the cost of your correspondence training classes if you’re using the Post-9/11 GI Bill at an in-state school. If you’re using other GI Bill programs, we’ll pay you back for 55% of the approved costs.”
So, if you’re planning on using the GI BIll for programs at any of these institutions, you should also be aware of the current payment rates for your reimbursement.
Education is a big deal. Whether your family can afford an ivy league school, or you have to serve in the military to pay for a state school, there are countless paths to getting a degree.
For those students who need a self-paced program, there are options available to you, and they are covered by your VA education benefits.
Don’t delay in getting started on your education!
(Image courtesy of fizkes via Shutterstock)
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About the author
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.
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