Many years ago, when I was in college, a friend asked me to help her bake cookies and breads for Christmas gifts. Although I am not really a baker (as you’ll find out if you keep reading), it was a good chance to get off campus and have fun with my friend.

She assigned the task of baking Nestle Toll House cookies to me. I took the very familiar yellow bag of chocolate chips, turned it over and reviewed the recipe. To be efficient, I gathered all of the ingredients, lined them up next to the mixing bowl, measured the flour, sugar and other items, and then I dumped everything into the bowl at the same time. As I tried to mix the dough, I realized that in my attempt to be quick I wrecked the dough. We baked the cookies in hopes of a Christmas miracle, but eight minutes later we discovered the wrecked dough led to wrecked cookies, so we threw everything away. I learned that for successful cookies, I needed to follow the recipe.

Success in life not always, but very often also follows a recipe. Passion for an interest, discipline, hard work, and problem solving are commonly cited elements needed for successful pursuits. Add to that, education.

In my experience as a Chancellor of Western Governors University, (WGU), a national nonprofit online university, I have witnessed hundreds of National Guard and Reserve members, active duty Service members, and veterans who have come to understand the value of pursuing or completing a degree in higher education. Serving in the military provides wonderful learning experiences and can deepen the individual’s knowledge of many skills needed for civilian employment. Having a degree on top of that experience can maximize their opportunities for success.

Moreover, military members are primed to be successful students. First, they are disciplined, so they take the time to do things correctly and make sure their assignments are completed. Second, their military experience helps them think analytically to solve problems. Both of these characteristics not only help with success in education, but combined with a college degree can make the student more successful in their professional lives, opening the door to a brighter future.

Ben MacVay, a mortarman with the Indiana Army National Guard, chose an online university because he says it fits his military lifestyle, studying when he has the time, and not worrying about missing classes if he doesn’t. Ben believes getting a bachelor’s degree in business management will be a game-changer for him. “I plan on using the degree to commission as an officer in the Guard, and follow it up with a stable civilian career,” he said.

Whether traditional or online, universities should offer Reserve Component members options that fit with their life’s circumstances. Some online models are competency-based, and that allows students to accelerate to degree completion based on their job experiences and learning. Another advantage of an online university is that it’s accessible to military members around the country. Some have a full-time faculty member call the students each week, which is similar to the buddy system common in the military culture.

If getting a degree needs further support, consider this: research demonstrates that individuals who have a bachelor’s degree will, over the course of their career, earn a million dollars more than a person without a bachelor’s degree.

In setting goals for the new year, I recommend Service members consider degree completion. Education is the main ingredient for career success.

By Allison Barber, PhD
Chancellor, Western Governors University