A clearer CPL path for student veterans

Photo: Ohio Department of Higher Education

Virginia in recent months has upgraded its Credits2Careers portal aimed at adult learners, including the military who would like to attend community colleges.

It is prepared to go live with a second effort, the Transfer Virginia portal, which focuses a bit more broadly, although veterans can use either, according to Emily Jones-Green, coordinator of credit for prior learning with the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).

“There’s a designated spot on Credits2Careers that specifically says how it works for military learners,” she says. “We’re using their language directly on our main pages.”

Editor’s note: This article is the second in a two-part series on state efforts to help student veterans attain credit for prior-learning experiences. Read the first article.

Launched about five years ago, Credits2Careers, in which all Virginia community colleges participate, initially focused solely on the military but has since expanded, Jones-Green says.

“We’re still working on the industry certification piece,” she notes.

Each college within VCCS makes its own determinations of what credits are awarded, the same as with any certification or academic coursework from another institution, Jones-Green says.

“We are in the process of trying to have it be a little more standardized,” she says. “Instead of faculty at each institution, it would be a peer group from across the entire state that meets to review recommendations.”

Working on various pieces

Four-year institutions in the state have not gotten as actively involved, although they have agreed that credits awarded by community colleges can count for general education, at the very least, says Patricia Parker, director of Transfer Virginia, housed at the State Council of Higher Education. For major credits, however, “each institution will determine whether they will accept CPL [credit for prior learning] credentials,” she says.

Transfer Virginia, which will be fully operational in April with 35 schools and hopes to expand to at least 50 by year’s end, is focused on higher education, generally, whether students start at a two-year college or go straight to a four-year campus, Parker explains.

“The Credits2Careers portal is for students that definitely want to start with an associate degree, who are bringing either military or industry credentials,” she says.

Challenges and progress

Credits2Careers is designed to refocus short-term credential programs as a pathway to longer-term goals, Jones-Green says. But getting faculty on board can be a challenge.

“Sometimes, it’s hard for faculty to understand that they’re not giving away the credit — they’re helping a student to progress,” she adds. “Also, there is a fear that the system office will dictate what has to be awarded. That’s not what we’re trying to do.”

Before Credits2Careers came online, students coming out of the military had difficulties transferring credits and were often required to repeat basic material, Parker says. Now, the portal has more than 20,000 military courses and other experiences that can be matched up.

“We’re keeping that current and trying to get everyone on the same page,” she says.

She adds: “The thing we try to do as a team is make sure that functionally the portal is working for the students and the staff. That’s the nice piece of working together and doing as many check-ins as we do. We’re able to talk through things [and] make quick changes for prospective student satisfaction and the ease of the user.”

Aiming for uniformity

Ohio began efforts related to military articulation after a chancellor’s directive in 2011 followed by legislation in 2014 that required the public system to evaluate military credit for college credit, says Jared Shank, senior director of military and apprenticeship initiatives and special projects for the Ohio Articulation and Transfer Network, housed within the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

Ohio’s transfer system is built on a common course numbering system between two- and four-year institutions, and the system has attempted to treat the military like an additional Ohio public institution, Shank says. Panels of faculty from community colleges as well as four-year institutions like Ohio State University and University of Cincinnati meet to decide whether a given military course passes muster for CPL.

“Military credit is evaluated equally amongst our 36 institutions,” he says. “If you have a military electronics course, and the ACE [American Council on Education] recommendation is six credit hours in DC electronics, every institution will get six hours.”

When states evaluate at the institutional level, that “allows for credit-shopping, and a service member is going to wonder, ‘Why is this different everywhere?’” he adds. “In Ohio, that’s something we’ve tried to eliminate, so it’s more uniform.”

The Transfer to Degree Guarantee search engine has several tabs to click on, including one for military veterans, Shank says.

“We looked at [other efforts] across the country to figure out how to display the most accurate information with what we’re doing in the state,” he says. “As we get new courses approved for statewide guarantee, they get added into that system.”

Getting faculty on board

Ohio, which participates in a multistate collaborative on military credit coordinated through the Midwest Higher Education Compact, also needed to spend time initially with faculty explaining how the system would work, Shank says.

“Unless a faculty member is a prior service member, they have no idea what the military does in an academic course setting,” he says. “They might say a course is only four weeks long, but in many cases those four weeks are 8-to-5, every day.”

The state network also needed to explain the ACE evaluations and how they work, Shank says, and faculty had many questions about how the system might affect program or school accreditation, whether regionally or by industry. But the state has received assurances on those fronts, and at this point “faculty aren’t questioning any type of academic rigor or accreditation,” he says. “Now it’s, ‘Can we get enough information to evaluate the course?’”

Other goals

Going forward, the Ohio Articulation and Transfer Network would like to combine CPL searches among the military and other sources, Shank says. Some service members come with not only military credit but AP credits, dual enrollment or other experiences worth considering.

“We’re trying to expand so [colleges] can see a snapshot of their academic background all at once,” he says. “I’m not sure how soon that will happen.”

The network also would like to begin incorporating experiences through the U.S. Military Apprenticeship Program that often parallel those offered at Ohio community colleges through U.S. Department of Labor grants, Shank says.

He explains: “We’re trying to make them aware of the opportunity in the military, and use that as an outreach tool to say, ‘We have an electronics apprenticeship program; if you completed that part of [military] training, you have three-quarters or more of the credits you need.’ We don’t have those built into the search engine functionality at this point in time, but we would love to do that.”

About the Author

Ed Finkel
Ed Finkel is an education writer based in Illinois.