Veteran Finds Opportunity with Education Incentive

Matthew Schwarzman grew up in Parma, Cleveland’s largest suburb until high school, when his family packed up and moved to Vermont. After graduation, he headed back to his beloved Cleveland to attend college but soon found himself drawn down a different path.

“I wasn’t ready to go to college and wanted to see the world,” said Schwarzman, who left behind his education and joined the US Air Force in 1981 at the age of 19.

He spent two years overseas in Japan during his service, but found it too difficult to attend courses with his busy schedule. After leaving the military, he worked for four years in various jobs, from construction to factory work. But Schwarzman wanted more and knew re-enlisting in the military was the first step.

He joined the US Army in 1987 as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle Mechanic (he would eventually retire as a Sergeant First Class). Thoughts about securing his college degree also began to creep back into his mind. While he wasn’t an exceptional student in high school, he knew college offered the opportunity to explore exciting new subject areas. And Schwarzman was right. He earned his bachelor’s degree in General Science from Johnson State College while a part-time National Guardsman.

He worked for the Vermont National Guard, full-time, before deciding to pursue his graduate degree at a local brick-and-mortar college. But like many students, Schwarzman found it difficult to balance a full-time job and classes. He also lived in a rural area, which made traveling to and from school, quite difficult, especially during the winter months.

Needing a more convenient and flexible education option, Schwarzman transferred to Excelsior College in 2013 after learning about the school’s partnership the Department of Vermont, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). As a VFW member, he could gain access to a reduced tuition rate for his master’s degree at Excelsior.

“I think it’s great that (the Vermont VFW) is appreciative of the sacrifices veterans have made and provide this education incentive through Excelsior,” said Schwarzman.

Schwarzman enrolled in the Master of Science in Cybersecurity. But while he had trepidations on whether he could succeed outside the traditional classroom, he found his initial online course much more accommodating to his schedule and the learning equivalent.

“Going back was initially frightening,” said Schwarzman, who credited his military experience with helping him learn time management and self-discipline. “But many of the people attending were in the same situation as I, and hadn’t been to school in many years. This put me at ease because I knew I wasn’t alone.”