Training is an important tenet of the military. Training for your careerfield, training for promotion, training for additional duties, training on new systems – one is never allowed to grow stagnant in the military. For some servicemembers, the amount of money the Department of Defense (DoD) has spent on their training could reach into the millions. With all of that training, one would think at least some of it would translate into college credit. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case (with combat medics often getting, in my opinion, a particularly raw deal). However, the American Council on Education (ACE) has been working diligently with the DoD to try and remedy that.
The American Council on Education, for those of you who haven’t heard of it (I hadn’t until I worked at the college), calls itself “the nation’s most visible and influential higher education association.” It is also the organization that evaluates military training and makes recommendations on how it equates to civilian, college and technical credits. This is an extremely important effort because it gives civilian academic deans, many of whom have never even heard of courses like “AAV RAM/RS Crew Functions by Correspondence,” a guide to determine how it might compare to something like “Kinematics/Dynamics of Machinery.” (These course examples were chosen at random from the Marine Corps Enlisted Course List on ACE and the USF Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Core Class List.)
Without that guide, colleges have generally ignored military training because they simply had no basis of comparison and veterans have found themselves retaking courses they have mastered, sometimes repeatedly, during their service. This has, in turn, led to frustration on the part of veterans, both for the repetition, the drain it puts on their GI Bill benefits that could be better used on other courses, and the delay in the time it takes veterans to obtain gainful employment.
While many veterans continue to feel shortchanged on what is generally termed “credit for military training,” the situation is improving and there are steps veterans can take to ensure that they are getting the college credit they deserve for their military training.
Request your Joint Service Transcript (JST): The JST is a new invention, developed by ACE and the DoD, that replaces the SMART (Navy/Marines), AARTS (Army), and Coast Guard military transcripts and combines them into one comprehensive transcript that contains the ACE recommended equivalencies for both military training and your military occupational specialty. Request a copy be sent to the school you plan to attend and request one for yourself. Look over it and see how many semester hours (SH) are recommended for each course and at which degree level (V=vocational, L=lower level, such as associate’s or first two years of a bachelor’s, U=upper level or last two years of a bachelor’s, G=graduate level). If you aren’t sure how to read it, you can go to the American Council on Education’s website, here, and find out more information.
Note: Air Force maintains its own transcript as the Community College of the Air Force is an accredited higher education institution and so its transcripts are evaluated in the same way as those coming from a different college.
Research any state laws pertaining to credit for military training: Since ACE only makes recommendations, not all colleges have to follow their recommendations. Many do, especially those who are members of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC), but many still refuse, or simply fall back on old habit and deny servicemembers credit without doing their homework first. To help this process along, many states are beginning to enact laws to help ensure that servicemembers and veterans get credit where credit is due.
For example, Florida Statute 1004.096, enacted in 2012, requires that all public higher education institutions develop policies for awarding credit to military members and veterans. The Florida Department of Education took it one step further with Rule 6A-14.0302, stipulating that those public schools “will” grant credit in accordance with ACE recommendations. (It also gave veterans priority registration, which many other states have also adapted.) To determine if your state has a similar law/rule, search your state legislature’s and/or department of education website, talk to a local veterans’ organization or service office, and/or talk to the veterans services department or VA School Certifying Official at your school.
Review your school policies: Just as a commander can always expand on higher headquarters’ edicts, colleges can create policies that are more detailed or expansive than those created at the state level. Additionally, for states that don’t have laws on the books and for all private schools, who are not bound by those laws, schools may take it upon themselves to create a credit transfer policy that clearly outlines for veterans and servicemembers how much credit they can expect for their military training. You can usually find these on the registrar’s page, transfer student page, or veteran student page. If you can’t find the policy on the school website, you can call the registrar or records department or the VA School Certifying Official as a starting point.
Examples of what school policies for awarding credit for military training might look like:
Follow up: Transcript evaluations can take awhile. However, if you haven’t received information on which credits have transferred by the end of your first term, you should follow up with your registrar or records department, whichever handles credit evaluations. If you weren’t awarded any credits or were awarded some credits but think you deserve more, don’t be afraid to ask what the appeals process is.
A few things to keep in mind as you pursue credit for military training:
- Colleges are not required, unless there is a state law in place, to award credit for military training. However, knowing what the state law is and what the ACE recommendations are for your specific training can improve your chances of getting the credit you deserve.
- Most military credit falls into the “elective” course area. Meaning, you aren’t likely to get credit for English Composition or Calculus; though I have seen credit given for Leadership, Communications, IT, Anatomy and Physiology, and other more “core” classes.
- This is especially important for those using VA education benefits as VA will not pay for any classes for which you have earned prior credit. Since your military transcript may not be evaluated until you have completed your first term, I always recommended to my students that they focus on their core classes in their first term and left their electives until later, to avoid any possibility of having to pay the VA back for tuition/fees, books, and housing.
- Don’t be afraid to appeal. If you think you should get credit/more credit, put together the ACE recommendations and a polite letter stating that ACE recommends you should get X number of credits and could the transcript please be reevaluated, as well as any other documents the school might require.
To learn more about getting credit for military training, you can refer to the American Council on Education’s Military Guide.
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