Claudell Harris joined the United States Army at 20 years old, drawn to the military for many of the same reasons as others from his hometown of Houma, Louisiana (and elsewhere): a profession and money to pay for school.
Throughout his ensuing career, Harris never lost sight of the importance of professional development. He knew that earning a degree would open up achieving a higher rank and boost his competitiveness in the civilian world, were he to ever leave the service. A friend told him about Excelsior College and he began to take classes soon after, as did many of his fellow service members.
Harris’ academic journey was challenging at times, both in familiarity with the online format and just finding the right home-military-family balance. But his military training helped him stick to a schedule, and with the help of a study group and the support of his family, Harris persevered.
After 26 years in the US Army, Harris retired in July 2011 as a Chief Warrant Officer. He moved to Texas, planning to continue work towards his bachelor’s degree. However, while the state provides tuition exemption to veterans through the Hazelwood act, Harris didn’t qualify as a new resident.
Not wanting to fall behind, Harris contacted Excelsior and learned about the school’s extensive network of veteran partnerships, in particular with local and state VFWs like New York. He spoke with VFW Post 7062 in Altamont, New York, became a member (albeit at a distance!) and continued his studies under the partnership agreement, which provided discount tuition and fee rates.
“Excelsior’s (instructors) were hard but fair,” said Harris. “I had a great support system though. My wife helped proof all my papers for mistakes before submission and my daughter was really good at biology, so she was a great help.”
Harris’ favorite course was his “Capstone” – a final intensive eight-week course requiring significant research and writing – because it brought together students from all branches of the military, fostering lively discussion over shared experiences.
With his studies towards a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts almost complete, Harris plans on traveling to Albany, New York next July for Excelsior’s Commencement ceremony. It will be the first time he’ll come face to face with his classmates and instructors. He’s even planning on visiting VFW Post 7062.
“I’m looking forward to coming down for graduation and meeting some of the members. (They were) outstanding help,” said Harris.
Once his diploma is in hand, he’ll be able to begin a new chapter in his life – a bachelor’s degree is required to be promoted to a higher level JROTC instructor.
Harris has some advice for fellow veterans too.
“If you are thinking about going back to school don’t sit around thinking about it get out there and do it.”