Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Program (SOC)

Created in 1972, the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program (SOC) helps active duty servicemembers and their family members complete a college education. With over 1,900 participating institutions of higher learning, the SOC consortium ensures servicemembers are able to transfer college credits when facing deployment and service moves.

In response to frequent moves and deployments getting in the way of servicemembers completing their college degrees, the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges (SOC) network was established. Founded in 1972, the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges program offers members of the military the ability easily transfer credits between schools so that no time is lost in their working toward a degree. Co-sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and American Association of Community Colleges, the SOC functions in cooperation with 15 higher education associations and the Department of Defense to ensure servicemembers earn a quality education. Over 1,900 institutions participate in the program to offer servicemembers the opportunity to earn associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees from online and campus-based schools.

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges: Participating Organizations

Institutions that sign on to be part of the SOC network may join as whole institutions, specific schools, or divisions. Institutions must be listed in the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database or recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that it is accredited and has high-quality programs. Members must also agree to the Joint Statement on the Transfer and Award of Credit which adheres to guidelines of the American Council of Education (ACE).

The SOC also operates the SOC Degree Network which consists of a subgroup of SOC institutions that have been selected by the military to deliver specific degree programs to servicemembers and their families. SOC operates the Degree Network System for the Army (SOCAD), Navy (SOCNAV), Marine Corps (SOCMAR), and Coast Guard (SOCCOAST). Air Force members can benefit from the Community College of the Air Force. It's also important to note that these schools accept military education benefits, meaning servicemembers are able to attend using GI Bill benefits and/or tuition assistance.

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges: Institutional Requirements

While participation in the SOC is voluntary, institutions may join by meeting the following criteria:

Transfer of credit: Since a servicemember's mobility can often make it difficult to complete degree requirements at one institution, SOC member institutions agree to minimize credit-loss by designing clear and easy transfer procedures for servicemembers. Servicemember Opportunity Colleges must determine the comparability of the nature, content and level of transfer credits in relation to its own course offerings.

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In order for credits to be accepted, they must be from a regionally or nationally accredited university. SOC uses students' transcripts, course descriptions, student manuals and other materials to determine if courses are transferable. Transfer of credit for online programs is done in the same manner as campus degree programs.

Academic residency requirements: Members of the SOC limit academic residency requirements for active duty servicemembers to be no more than 25 percent of the degree requirements (30 percent for online degrees). This limit allows servicemembers to satisfy degree requirements by avoiding "final year" coursework that some programs call for.

Credit for military training and experience: SOC institutions accept credit earned for military training such as basic training, leadership schools, and experience provided ACE guidelines are met. Schools such as the Community College of the Air Force have a record of coursework that is transferable to an applicable program.

Award credit via extra-institutional learning: Servicemembers who earn college credits from exams such as CLEP, ECE, and DSST can be used toward a degree program according to ACE guidelines.

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges: Distance and Online Learning

Today, colleges and universities continually offer new programs entirely in distance and online learning formats that allow students to complete a program at one institution. SOC institutions that provide distance learning programs must adhere to the same criteria as on campus institutions. Therefore, the transfer of credit is done in the same manner as campus only degree programs.

Interested servicemembers should contact the education center from their respective military facility. A counselor can help servicemembers decide on a program from a SOC institution and apply for admission. A list of the complete schools that participate in SOC can be found at the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges program web site. By attending a school participating in the SOC program, servicemembers are able to complete degrees from accredited institutions while still meetings the demands of military life.