By Marc Seelinger, Foundation Activist at the University of North Carolina
Soldiers spend years in the military working as medics, working as translators, or leading units in the wilds of Afghanistan, but when they enter (or re-enter) college these veterans can’t translate any of those experiences into academic credit.
Such is the experience for many returning veterans who are confronted with a byzantine maze of approvals and applications when attempting to obtain credit for their military experiences.
The Academic Bureaucracy
A recent story in the Daily Tar Heel indicates that a confusing and bewildering academic bureaucracy is the origin of the problem at UNC-Chapel Hill (and many other universities). They are confronted by what one veteran calls “so many different places to go and people to sift through.” They must then contend with academic departments’ frequently subjective decisions to grant (or not grant) credit.
Ryan Beck, UNC’s advisor for military affairs, said, “The process could end up being subjective from individual to individual. A common answer is you have to go to the department to argue for it, but two people might go and get different results.”
This is a rather ridiculous standard. However, I will give credit where credit is due and recognize some of UNC’s efforts to correct this problem. Just this past April, the university began waiving the so-called Lifetime Fitness Requirement (a one credit-hour class many students fulfill by playing soccer or basketball) for veterans. Of course, the university can and ought to do much more.
An Easy Solution
The American Council on Education publishes the Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services. The Guide provides a standard for evaluating military experiences and translating them into academic credit. A panel of three subject matter specialists (professors, deans, etc.) evaluate the training and other courses offered by the military and recommend an appropriate level of academic credit, which ACE then publishes in its Guide. Some schools (such as UNC-Wilmington) already use this guide as an aid, both for the departments awarding the credit and for the returning veterans. This way, veterans can have an idea of what kind of credit to expect. Utilizing such a guide would help eliminate the arbitrary nature of UNC’s current credit approval process.
The university could also benefit by reducing the number of bureaucratic hurdles veterans have to jump through in order to receive credit. Here, Beck highlights a rather disturbing problem: “A lot of people end deciding that it’s not worth it and end up taking the class.” This is a waste of time and money for both the university and veterans.
Numerous Reasons to Give Credit
There are obvious costs incurred by the veterans in such a situation. But, in a time when the university is cutting class sections and seats in classes are increasingly limited, it is in the interest of the entire university to not force students to take unnecessary classes.
Transferring credit—whether from a military experience, study abroad, or another institution—often involves unnecessary duplication across multiple approval forms, and the process is unclear and very slow (my own experience indicates it can take up to five months).The university needs to streamline its approval procedures so that approvals happen quickly and efficiently.
UNC’s current credit approval process for military experiences is confusing and inconsistent. It robs veterans of the credit they deserve for their experiences and wastes time and money teaching them what they already know. Aside from any financial considerations, UNC’s failure to accommodate these veterans is an embarrassment and a shame.
Marc Seelinger is a Foundation activist at the University of North Carolina.