By Jessica C. Wray
Indiana higher education official Ken Sauer testified before a House subcommittee in Washington on Wednesday about the importance of college transfer credits for servicemen and women and the need for more information on credit recommendations.
Individual colleges and universities have the ability to decide how an incoming student's military training and experience transfers to courses offered - with help from The American Council on Education's credit recommendations.
But Indiana and six other Midwest states have created a consortium to discuss the issue - saying there's more to be done to make college accessible to veterans and military members. The Multi-State Collaborative for Military Credit began about 18 months ago in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio - with the initiative later expanding to Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri.
The collaborative is working to better understand and apply those national credit recommendations, said Sauer, a senior associate commissioner with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
"On the college side, it's understanding exactly how a service member's training and experience gives them certain competencies and skills that are covered in other courses" Sauer said. "It's just not easy to do that."
He said the ACE credit recommendations are solid, but some small colleges need more information than is now offered.
For example, he said, a military basic medical corpsman's training is very similar to that of a licensed practical nurse. A returning corpsman would need only a few "gap courses" to be eligible to work in a civilian hospital.
But the discussion isn't just about credit distribution - it's also looking at the increased accessibility to college for military students.
"There's also obviously the idea that time really is the enemy of completion, to the extent that if somebody can get credit for something they already know, it shortens the time a student - in this case a veteran student - would need to complete their degree," Sauer said. "And obviously it saves money too - both for the service member as well as the state who is funding the instruction."
Sauer, along with Kimrey Rhinehardt from the University of North Carolina, Arthur Kirk from Saint Leo University in Florida and Russell Kitchner with American Public University System, testified before the Higher Education and Workforce Training subcommittee on some of the collaborative's findings.
Rhinehardt spoke of the University of North Carolina's military partnership programs to create specialized courses designed for students to transfer their military experience into a civilian career.
But U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th District - who formerly worked for Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana - wanted to know how to take individual university success stories and apply those techniques nationally.
"What will it take to move us further rather than program by program ... what can we do to have a much stronger collaboration between the Defense Department and our colleges and universities so it's much more seamless than what it sounds to be a bit more happenstance right now?" Brooks said. "I appreciate and applaud what is happening, but yet it seems like it is just not systematic at this point - and I think we're missing an opportunity."
For a university system like the University of North Carolina - and its 17 affiliated campuses - there is a military resource advantage with the state's Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Fort Bragg Army post and Coast Guard and Marine bases in the university's back yard.
Kitchener, the vice president for regulatory and governmental relations at American Public University System, said one primary goal for his institution is not only to provide for the veteran student academically and financially but also to provide emotional support.
"One of the things that I think is absolutely essential is to prepare our faculty to work with our veteran students," Kitchner said, "Understanding they come to the classroom with some special challenges and in all likelihood have life situations and experiences that are different from your traditional college-aged student."
Subcommittee chairwoman U.S. Rep Virginia Foxx, R-NC, told the panel of experts that higher education policies for veterans and military students are heading in the right direction.
"I think progress is being made, and it's obvious in the things that you're saying that progress is being made," Foxx said.
Jessica C. Wray is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.