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Online Guide Helps Military-connected Navigate Higher Ed’s Path to Success

While veterans and other military-connected individuals are sometimes deluged with information about higher education, there is o­ften a disconnect between their needs and the actual points of access that will get them to the stable, fulfilling careers they desire. A key element is figuring out how to transition from military occupations and receive credit for the valuable skills learned during service.

Faculty and military personnel at a meeting in Kansas to discuss educational issues for military-connected individuals. (Photo courtesy of MHEC/MCMC and Kansas Board of Regents)Faculty and military personnel at a meeting in Kansas to discuss educational issues for military-connected individuals. (Photo courtesy of MHEC/MCMC and Kansas Board of Regents)

“A common career pathway for Army medics is paramedic/emergency services. There are accelerated programs that give credit for these medics to attain an advanced paramedic credential,” says Amy Sherman, associate vice president of innovation and policy for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

To help military-connected individuals understand the landscape and access bridge programs, CAEL collaborated with the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) to produce the online guide Valuing Military Learning — A Guide to Military Prior Learning Assessment and More. The key piece is helping veterans and service members learn more about bridge programs and guide them through licensing and certification issues.

“Sixty-two percent of service members and veterans are first-generation college students,” says Sara Appel, Multi-State Collaborative on Military Credit (MCMC, an MHEC initiative) project coordinator. “These students tend to need more information on college literacy, including the process of applying, paying for and attending higher education.

“MHEC/MCMC strives to meet the needs of those different types of students by having as much information as possible on resources and points of contact in all 13 MCMC member states; not only in the Guide, but as information on the MCMC web page,” she adds. “MCMC believes that it’s important to have reliable information in more than one place in order to reach our service members and veterans.”

Credit where it’s due

Valuing Military Learning says that the health care and social assistance sector of the U.S. economy is projected to add 3.8 million jobs between 2014 and 2024. Most health care occupations require at least some postsecondary education. Health care careers can o­ften be highly appealing to military-connected individuals who thrived in military jobs such as medic or hospital corpsman.

According to MHEC/MCMC, many service members and veterans have military occupation codes (MOC) in this area.

The goal for MHEC/MCMC in working with CAEL is to receive credits for these military occupations and/or find accelerated programs for people who bring relevant experience.

“There is a small but growing trend of institutions evaluating military training to determine credit awards based on the veterans’ military occupational category,” says Sherman. “These institutions tend to build accelerated programs that address any identified gaps between military and civilian training, often called bridge programs. There are quite a few in the health care field.”

The focus on health care was chosen by MHEC/MCMC to maximize the guide’s impact and effectiveness. It is the first guide in a series that identifies MOCs that correspond with workplace needs. Future guides are planned in the areas of law enforcement and security/technology that will examine bridge and/or accelerated programs.

Development and collaboration

MHEC consists of 13 states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin). CAEL developed most of the content and language in Valuing Military Learning and worked with MHEC/MCMC to create the addendum with the member state resources. CAEL has a team dedicated to veterans’ needs that works closely with higher education systems and institutions.

“CAEL’s veterans’ team attends military-related conferences and workshops, and engages in field research to make sure that the team is well-versed in the latest information in the field,” Sherman adds. “This guide is directed toward the veterans themselves, but it has great value for other stakeholders. For example, state and higher education stakeholders have an opportunity to learn about what the MCMC members are doing to support veterans in their states.”

Sherman says there is a need to engage in more dialogue with faculty to increase their exposure to military prior learning assessment (PLA). CAEL offers training to PLA faculty assessors.

Also, several members of the MCMC are veterans, who bring their knowledge to the initiative.

Appel and other individuals associated with MHEC/MCMC say collaboration is the key to most effectively serving the needs of veterans and service members. There is constant dialogue among the states about best practices and resources. Some states, such as Minnesota and Ohio, have well-developed programs, while others are just starting out.

There are three other higher education compacts in the United States: the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the Southern Regional Educational Board and the New England Board of Higher Education. Three states — Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey — are not part of any higher education compact. Compacts have expressed interest in the work of MHEC as they implement programs to best serve military-connected students.

“We want to share what states like Minnesota [with extensive veterans’ services] have done with other states, so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” says Appel.

“In Kansas, we’ve made significant strides to be an up-and-coming leader as compared to our peer states,” says Connie Beene, senior director of adult and career technical education for the Kansas Board of Regents. “We look forward to collaborating with other states not currently serving our veterans to this extent, so we can collectively work together to provide education opportunities for our service members and veterans.

“Our partnership with Army University [a university within the U.S. Army] and the U.S. Army has been critical to our success, and we are currently sharing our progress with other states.”

Beene says Valuing Military Learning can be used as an information piece to start conversations with state legislators about veterans’ educational issues. It is important for legislators to know about successful programs and the monetary investment necessary to achieve results.

“We hope that other compacts will either use our model or adapt it for their use,” says Appel. “We were invited to a military meeting [of the Southern Regional Educational Board] where we presented our model and the work that we’ve done and are continuing to do.”

Jim Craig, an associate teaching professor and chair of the Department of Military and Veterans Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says he believes the critical difficulty that military-connected students face when they transition to the classroom is trying to adapt from military education to credit articulation.

“Our educational systems have evolved to value the ‘credit hour’ above all; military education values outcomes and competencies,” says Craig. “Creating systems that interpret, translate and articulate a service member’s relevant educational experiences into credits that have value toward an actual degree is a task that MCMC takes very seriously.

“Through our committee work we have been able to identify and widely share promising practices from forward-thinking colleges and universities. This knowledge helps both our veteran students and our institutions.”

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