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So You Think Your School is “Military Friendly”?

So You Think Your School is “Military Friendly”?
The “military friendly” tag should be more than just lip service for colleges and universities; it should represent an innate understanding of the experiences and needs of military service members and veterans.

The term “military friendly” brings to mind various ideas for each of us, depending on what our experiences in life have been. Having served in the military but also having been employed in the higher education field for more than 35 years, I tried to step back and examine what that term means to me. To do so, I had to ask myself one question: “If I was looking for a college to start my education while still in the military, or upon leaving it, what would I be looking for?”

The first thing that came to mind was ease of determining how military training would contribute toward a degree. If a school is “military friendly,” one would expect any college-level military training could be used toward that service member’s degree. This sounds much easier to an individual outside of education than it is.

One finds not all military training has been evaluated for college-level credit. I don’t understand why, but apparently not all courses taken by a military member are reviewed by the American Council on Education (ACE). Evaluations for military courses require funding, and in these days of austerity budgeting by the Department of Defense, that funding is increasingly difficult to find.

As such, if a school is to be “military friendly,” it must be able to address the issue of military college credits not currently evaluated by ACE, as several institutions are currently doing. Excelsior College and Thomas Edison State College (TESC) are two that come to mind. My own institution, Warren County Community College, was fortunate to partner an agreement with TESC to evaluate gaps in assessment of military training for credit. In an ideal world, military transcripts should be a click on the web. Right now, however, veterans must compare the number of college credits awarded toward each degree and school they might be interested in attending.

Schools that are “military friendly” should be showing military credit evaluation prior to an individual’s application for admission. In addition, one would also expect the application process to be simplified and entirely online, among other expectations such as: one-to-one academic counseling, online tutoring available 24/7, tutorials regarding online learning and course expectations and small online and on-campus classes. In the end, good “military friendly” schools need to provide a helping hand when a veteran is in need. That is the bottom line in my mind to be designated “military friendly” — you are there to service one of the most important constituencies at your school, our military members and veterans.

Of course, college policy could never address every situation a “military friendly” school encounters when serving such students. But a common sense approach must be used by all members of a school’s staff and faculty when addressing programmatic, institutional and financial student issues. Addressing each student as if they were the only student you were going to speak to or see that day is the first step in a successful recruitment and retention approach.

One must remember our military student population are accustomed to taking orders and are not invited to question the system. Thus, they are less likely to challenge what is not being recognized for credit. It is the responsibility of admissions officials to understand the past activities of each student and determine where credit might reasonably be awarded.

In the end, a “military friendly” institution must be willing to help each one of these individuals, not just by saying, “Thanks for your service,” but by putting some meaning to that phrase in the form of recognizing and converting their military education and training into college credit.

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