Some colleges ignore veterans’ experience

GI enrollment surge spurs calls for policy change

Navy veteran Donny Spradling, shown with son Isaac, will be taking largely introductory courses this fall. Navy veteran Donny Spradling, shown with son Isaac, will be taking largely introductory courses this fall. (L.G. Patterson/Associated Press)
By Alan Scher Zagier
Associated Press / August 21, 2009

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COLUMBIA, Mo. - 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 the University of Missouri.

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.

“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 reexamine 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 workforce.

“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’s 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 Jack Dunn, school spokesman.

“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, The George Washington University, 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 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.

“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.’’