Photo Credit: Ms. Brittany Carlson

A 'Colonel' of advice: Use your education benefits. Now.

November 12, 2018 - 2:45 pm

“Nothing gets done if you don’t do it.”

No truer words could be spoken by a retired Army Colonel who manages the teams that coach military service members and veterans through higher education at University of Maryland, University College.

Col. Cheryl A. Harris (U.S. Army, Ret.) spent 30 years in missile defense and intelligence work, and earned 3 college degrees plus executive certifications along the way.

“You should never step out of uniform without some college under your belt, because there are opportunities there, and you should take them,” she says.

She knows. Harris joined the Army Reserves before she graduated high school, then attained a Bachelors and 2 Masters degrees, rising to Colonel at the same time.  Her mission now is to help soldiers and veterans alike use their educational benefits to grow, not just in their career, but intellectually as well.

photo courtesy Col. Cheryl Harris (ret. US Army)

Harris, Associate Vice President of Military Enrollment Operations at UMUC, oversees the Military Education Coordinators (MECs) who meet one-on-one with potential students on military bases and locations in close proximity to those bases, helping them balance work, family and education.

Those MECs advise, help you enroll, and evaluate how much of your military service will transfer into the UMUC program, ensuring you graduate in the quickest amount of time.

“We take them from application to graduation,” she says, beaming like a proud mother.

Driven like any soldier with a mission, Harris doesn’t like excuses about not taking advantage of those educational benefits.

“Look at the bigger picture,” she says, “What could be the outcome if you DO this?”

She’s got a point.

“You could get a better job, you could move up in your current job, you’ll be better informed, and you can continue to learn,” says Harris, a life-long learner. “There’s not a point in your life based on age or your family situation where you stop learning.”

University of Maryland, University College excels in helping military and veterans balance the daily struggles that make higher education so difficult.

“We (UMUC) do it best because we invest in our people and our sites,” she says.  UMUC has 140-plus locations worldwide, including military bases, making earning a degree convenient. Because UMUC is so invested in the military, MECs specialize in issues specific to service members, spouses and veterans.  For example, UMUC offers a discounted military tuition rate for active duty, guard members and their family.  But if you still need help, the MECs can walk you through tuition assistance, including benefits and federal financial aid, which could cover up to 100% of your tuition.

The MECs also understand how military life can detour the best laid plans.

“If they have to deploy, we help them work with their instructors to explain what’s happening to get them in a situation so there’s no penalty for their benefits,” says Harris. “We work with them on a very personal level.”

Harris is responsible for the management of UMUC’s stateside locations on and near military installations.

“What UMUC does best is we really tailor our programs to the needs of our student population,” she says.  “What’s required in Texas may not be required in California.”

That flexibility and specialized attention is what has earned UMUC so much recognition.

“We ensure they’re getting what THEY want, not what we have in the UMUC catalogue.  The UMUC catalogue is a guideline, and we can go in there and work with the academic team here to build something unique if that’s what required.”

If you’re toying with the idea of going back to school, Harris, who is certified in personal and executive coaching, says the first place to look is at home.

“Anyone who’s having any dilemma about if you want to go to school: sit down and take a look at your support systems.  Anyone who cares about you wants you to do your very best and wants you to be your very best.  You probably have more support out there than you think.”

Do you think “a college degree doesn’t mean anything?” she asks.  “Well, just go try to get a good paying job that supports your family without one."

“Higher education gives you an opportunity to go places you never thought you could.”  Harris knows.  Even now, she’s aiming for more.  She’s pursuing her doctorate in Strategic Leadership.