Online Education’s Flexibility Makes Degrees Possible for Military Couple

From the WGU Indian blog

by Lisa Abbott

Robert and Rachel Grasmick

When WGU Indiana students Robert and Rachel Grasmick call for our scheduled phone interview, they do so far from their Hoosier home. Today, they’re in Salt Lake City, the latest stop on their family’s multi-state sightseeing tour of the western U.S. This military and homeschooling family of five prioritizes time spent together. Excursions like this one are possible because they’ve intentionally woven a flexible lifestyle into the fabric of their lives–and their education. Consequently, even on this long-distance trip, neither the Grasmick children’s nor their parents’ studies have to take a back seat.

It’s that same kind of flexibility that Rachel sought, when she first explored the possibility of earning her bachelor’s degree in 2014. Her desire to model the value of learning as a lifelong process drove her decision to return to school. “I wanted to show my kids that learning never stops,” she says. “I just love to learn. Plus, it would open doors and expand my horizons.” She began researching her options.

Online Option Made the Education Accessible

Rachel quickly realized that the hour-and-a-half commute to the college campus nearest to their rural Bourbon farm ruled out a traditional, brick-and-mortar institution. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) veteran’s demanding daily schedule included parenting, homeschooling, and running the family’s farm; often single-handedly when Robert was assigned to tours of duty for his Air Force Reserves career. Even with the assistance of the G.I. Bill’s education benefits at her disposal, the high tuition cost of for-profit online schools made them cost prohibitive. “Everything I looked at was ridiculously expensive,” she says. Then Rachel discovered WGU Indiana.

She learned that she could use her competencies from her associate’s degree in nursing to earn a B.S. in health informatics with the state’s non-profit university. The school’s online approach could make it possible for her to study whenever and wherever she needed to. By applying her G.I. benefits towards WGU Indiana’s affordable tuition rates, the dream of a college degree suddenly seemed like an attainable goal. She enrolled and squeezed her studies into her busy schedule by studying nights and weekends.

Education Becomes a Family Affair

As Rachel neared completion of her bachelor’s degree, Robert took note of her progress. “Seeing how Rachel went through the system, it really was kind of eye-opening. I saw just how doable it was,” he says. Through his active U.S. Army and then USAF Reservist careers, Robert had earned an impressive five associate’s degrees, all in different areas of study. “We moved around so much that I just wasn’t anywhere long enough for me to finish a four-year degree,” he says. “It was never possible to tie it all together into a degree, which was really frustrating,” adds Rachel.

“When I saw that with WGU, all of your books are online and that no matter where I go in the world, I would still have access to my school, I thought, ‘Holy cow! I can finally complete this! This is going to be good!’” says Robert. As a training and education manager for a civil engineering squadron, he could use his collective knowledge and military experience to pursue a bachelor’s degree. He knew that a degree could open up opportunities for his professional future.

Prior to Rachel completing her bachelor’s degree with WGU Indiana, Robert enrolled in the bachelor’s in business management degree program. After graduating, Rachel decided to continue her education and enrolled in WGU Indiana’s M.Ed. in learning and technology degree program. Education became a central focus for the entire Grasmick household, with the children homeschooling and Rachel and Robert simultaneously pursuing advanced degrees.

Military Experience as an Educational Asset

Using their GI Bill benefits and WGU Indiana’s exclusive military scholarships made it possible for the couple to pursue their degrees. “Like most military families, we don’t have a lot of excess,” explains Rachel. “With WGU, it’s something you can do your own and not have to think about loans.”

The couple acknowledges the unique challenges that military families like theirs face. “There’s nothing in our lives that we can plan. Ever,” says Rachel. “You can only plan to be flexible.” But neither of them worries about unforeseen deployments nor other unanticipated events interrupting their studies. When some of Robert’s unit was sent to help with Hurricane Irma relief efforts, they waited to see if he would be needed and knew that even if he were away, he could still continue his education. “With WGU it’s so flexible, you can take it with you and you don’t have to stop anything. The time is yours. You can make the most of it. The program’s flexibility and how it’s all available online has been invaluable to our family,” says Robert.

That flexibility can be extremely valuable to military spouses, as well, says Rachel. The unpredictability of military life can present challenges for them, too, as they consider their own educational goals while also juggling the responsibilities of children and family. Rachel serves as a volunteer for the military’s Key Support Team, assisting family members when their loved ones are deployed. “We take care of them so that they don’t fall through the cracks,” she explains. “It’s hard for us because we are the ones who are holding it all together while they are gone.” As a military-friendly school, WGU Indiana recognizes the important role spouses play and even extends scholarship benefits to them.

But even with its inherent challenges, both Grasmicks see the rigor of their military background as a tremendous asset as they pursue their WGU Indiana degrees. “You’re motivated to get everything done in the military. It’s on you,” says Robert. “At WGU, you have the support of a mentor, but it’s also on you to get your work done.”

Today, Rachel is only one term away from attaining her master’s degree and Robert is not far behind, with his bachelor’s degree in site. They both treasure their online experience with WGU Indiana. “It has broadened my perspective,” explains Robert. “It’s the wave of the future,” concludes Rachel. “I tell everyone about it. I’ve learned so much! It has been fun.”

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