Veterans start over as colleges ignore experience

Thursday, August 20, 2009 | 7:56 p.m. CDT; updated 9:58 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 20, 2009
Navy veteran Donny Spradling works at his Columbia home. Spradling will attend MU this fall. Nearly half a million veterans are expected on college campuses this year as part of a new GI Bill that has many schools re-examining their services for soldiers-turned-students.

COLUMBIA — Twelve years of military service left Donald Spradling highly trained in satellite imagery, nuclear engineering and foreign intelligence analysis. None of that made a difference to MU.

When the fall semester begins next week, the 33-year-old father of five will be taking largely introductory courses with the rest of the school's freshmen.


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"I'm going to be studying things I already learned all over again," the Navy veteran said.

Nearly half a million veterans are expected on college campuses this year as part of the new GI Bill. The surge is leading to a call for schools to re-examine their policies of declining to grant college credit for military training and service.

An estimated one in five colleges and universities do not give academic credit for military education, according to a recent survey of 723 schools by the American Council on Education that is believed to be the first systematic measure. Even more of the schools, 36 percent, said they don't award credit for military occupational training.

For Spradling and others, that can mean spending more on tuition, stretching financial aid or GI Bill scholarships and delaying their entry into the work force.

"In most cases, it's simply an academic decision that they're not going to award any credit for learning acquired outside a traditional classroom," said James Selbe, a former Marine and the council's assistant vice president for lifelong learning.

Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton said the school considers most military preparation "experiential learning." He noted that individual academic departments can choose to award credit on their own.

"It may be very practical skills acquisition, but that may not be what university education sets out to do," he said. "We're looking to build on a framework, a foundation of knowledge."

At Boston College, a private school, the standard has always been to accept credit only for institutions of higher education, said school spokesman Jack Dunn.

"That holds true for members of the armed forces as well," he said.

Many college-bound veterans said military recruiters often offer an unrealistic portrayal of what awaits in academia, suggesting their military coursework and training will count for college credit.

Some advocates also fault a campus climate where military training is poorly understood. They say many schools underestimate the quality of their education, and unlike community college credit or Advanced Placement classes, it's not easy to measure.

"Because of their lack of knowledge of the military, they don't equate it as the same as being in the classroom," said Kathy Snead, president of Servicemembers Opportunities Colleges.

The Washington-based group is a consortium of more than 1,800 schools whose members are required to recognize military coursework and training. Among the participants: the California State University system, George Washington, the State University of New York schools and Ohio State.

Snead described one student at a Midwest research university who had worked as a Naval nuclear engineer but didn't receive credit for his experience.

"He had much more current knowledge than most of his professors," she said. "He ended up helping teach the class."

Derek Blumke, a six-year Air Force veteran, helped found Student Veterans of America, a group that plans to push for a greater acceptance of military credit. At the University of Michigan, which he attends, some military coursework — such as foreign language study — is accepted for credit. Other work is not.

"There needs to be a standard format set up," said Blumke. "There are tens of thousands of vets coming home who aren't receiving the credit they deserve because the proper protocol isn't in place."

"It's insulting," he added. "They were teaching leadership in a way most colleges will never be able to."

Army veteran Michael McIntosh noted that Missouri's policy meant he could not use his experience jumping from planes as part of an airborne unit to fulfill a physical education requirement — even as other students could enroll in scuba diving or similar pursuits.

"I would have liked for them to at least acknowledge it," he said. "It might have been a military education, but it was still a lot of work and a lot of training."

He now attends Columbia College, a liberal arts school with 18 satellite campuses on military bases — including Guantanamo Bay. The school accepts military training for credit, and some occupational training.

And some colleges are even promoting their credits for military work as a way to recruit veterans.

At Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., that led to more than 300 veterans enrolled in the fall semester, said Pat Brown, the school's educational outreach dean. That's more than six times the number enrolled just a few years ago.

The school has established two degree programs geared specifically for service members: an emergency medical care degree for Special Forces medics and an emergency and disaster management degree for civil affairs personnel. Both accept military training and transfer military training for credit for other degrees.

"People need to recognize that the quality of education going on in the military is at a very high level," Brown said.

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Allan Sharrock August 20, 2009 | 8:48 p.m.

I feel your pain Donny I went through the same argument with MU. Some departments have leadership classes and I always felt that vets should at least get those counted, and PE counted.

(Report Comment)
Clara Allen August 21, 2009 | 8:11 a.m.

If credit was awarded the university would not not receive $$$ for the credit. Ergo the policy. Also, don't the armed services provide opportunities for many personnel to obtain official college credit and degrees while enlisted?

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock August 21, 2009 | 1:19 p.m.

The credits have to come from a school since they are "accredited" by the government. All degrees have to come from some institution. Some universities have figured out that it is good business to give more credits to military to entice them to attend. I mean wouldn’t you rather collect two years worth of tuition than none? MU is basically being selfish.

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