Intersecting Parallel Universes – Online Learning and Military Voluntary Education

Last week the Council for College and Military Educators held their annual symposium and as an attendee and concurrent session presenter, I had the opportunity to observe the many conversations those in the military voluntary education community are having that parallel and intersect with those we’re having in the online education community.  One surprise for me was that by the time a military student completes a credential they have attended on average 5 institutions to compile all of the credits necessary and often times graduate with far more credits than are necessary for the degree because all of those credits don’t fit the degree requirements.  To me, that speaks to a necessity to reconsider our general education requirements, so that they are more broad to allow a greater diversity of credits to be accepted, thereby reducing the burden on the student and the tuition assistance/financial aid system.

My observations:

  • Data Metrics are ubiquitous.  In every higher education community I have contact with, in every conference program I’ve seen this year, data metrics are omnipresent.  CCME was no different.  On Monday, I participated in the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Burning Issues Summit.  The number one item on the agenda – reviewing a suggested methodology for tracking the success metrics of military students.  As the Transparency by Design project director, I participated as a subject expert in this summit as the SOC subcommittee utilized our Learner Progress Methodology in developing their recommendations.  Common metrics were also a part of the conversation regarding the new Department of Defense (DoD) Third Party Education Assessment process (formerly Military Voluntary Education Review – MVER) as well as the DoD Memorandum of Understanding for those offering tuition assistance.
  • Defining the students we serve. Just as we in the online education community struggle with defining WHO is an online student, the military serving community struggles to define who is a military student.  There are many factors to consider such as enrollment level, enlistment type (active, reserve, veteran), branch, and deployment status.  73% of students receiving military tuition assistance are taking their coursework online, which crossroads them into the online student category as well.  With both populations being very mobile, this leads into the next issue being discussed…I’ll bet you can guess what it is…
  • State Authorization of Higher Education. The state authorization regulations are also weighing heavy on military serving institutions.  They are dealing with the added layer of soldiers living on bases, at sea and in our war zones, all while maintaining their primary residence in other states, in trying to figure out which states they need to apply for authorization.  WCET’s Russ Poulin, North Dakota’s Bob Larson and Dow Lohnes’ Jeannie Yockey-Fine participated in a panel sharing their vast experiences with state authorization.  In many cases, as you well know, the common refrain for this issue is – It Depends. Major concerns raised by the audience focused on the transient nature of military students and how institutions track that for proper authorization as well as the possibility that military learners could face adding even more institutions to their already burgeoning transcripts if forced to transfer to an institution with authorization where they are.
  • U.S. Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Bravo Troop, 1st Battalion, 150th Armored Reconnaissance Squadron, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, from Bluefield, W. Va, take time to surf the internet, at Forward Operating Base Yusifiyah, in central Iraq, Aug. 16, 2009. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Edwin L. Wriston.

    Military students choose online education for convenience.  During Tuesday’s Military Student Panel, all five students (representing the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard) echoed that the primary reason they take online classes, even those who preferred the face-to-face interaction, was for their convenience.  This becomes even more imperative if they are studying while deployed.  An interesting take away for online educators, when deployed, connectivity can be spotty and slow.  While they see the value in the bells and whistles (embedded graphics, videos, etc.), they often don’t have the bandwidth to take advantage of these.  This also goes for completely online textbooks – while deployed they may not have the computer time or bandwidth to utilize these resources.

  • Reclaiming our quality indicators. During the SOCs burning issues summit, the second item on the agenda was reclaiming or replacing the term “Military-Friendly Institution.”  It has been appropriated by certain publications which rank, rate and promote military friendliness as a marketing tactic.   For me, this struck a tune similar to the conversations we’ve been having about reclaiming online education’s quality indicators from marketing entities such as U.S. News and World Report. As I said in the session, if we {as online or military educators} want to reclaim these indicators, the first thing we must do is stop using their rankings in our marketing to students and stop paying them for advertising in their publications, be they in print or online.  As Russ and I discussed in an earlier post, if we were to create a culture of transparency throughout higher education, with institutions sharing data openly, publicly and giving students tools to make informed decisions, would the rankings live on?  If we were accountable to ourselves and our students, would we need to use the arbitrary rankings in our marketing?

Considering the overlap in our student populations, how, or are, your online programs serving military students? I would love to hear about your best practices for serving online military students in the comments.

Cali Morrison
Manager, Major Grants, WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
Project Director, Transparency by Design
cmorrison@wiche.edu

Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Edwin L. Wriston, Creative Commons Licensed by The U.S. Army on Flickr.

2 Comments

  1. Posted February 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Posted on behalf of Brian Sayler, Military Affairs, Kaplan University:
    There is definitely a lot of work to be done in voluntary education. Transfer credit was a big theme this year at CCME and it has always been an area where military students often suffer. The admirable efforts of service members who take courses whenever they have opportunities be it on base, at a local college or via distance learning often find those credits are difficult to transfer. Organizations, such as SOC have attempted to bridge this gap, and member schools are required to accept credit from other member schools. The military has also supported getting ACE recommendations for various training courses and occupations. However, it less than a perfect system and in many cases the incredible learning experiences and training our military members achieve goes unrewarded.
    At Kaplan University, we’ve provided a great deal of focus on how we support our military students. In regard to military transfer credits the key is to be proactive in seeking out military programs, or helping student uncover hidden credits.
    We accept training when validated through CLEP or DSST; we accept credit from other SOC member or accredited institutions. We work to be included into the SOC Degree Network System where required credits are mapped to all other DNS institutions. Currently we are pending circulation in 9 programs. We also offer a program that allows students to build a portfolio based on their military, community service, or personal experiences which have not been validated by other means. They are assisted in determining the realized outcomes from these activities and matching those against courses from accredited schools. We allow student to bring in up to 75% of credits either by experiential or transfer credit. We participate in the Air Force’s Associate’s to Bachelor’s Cooperative Program (AUABC) which is essentially a 2 plus 2 program with the Community College of the Air Force. We participate in the Air Force’s General Education Mobile, which helps Airmen obtain their general education electives online paving the way for achievement of the associate’s program through a mix of training and other college courses.
    Another key step for KU was to insure our programs provide adequate room to be flexible in regard to open electives. Many times experiential credits or credits earned by examination do not satisfy key requirements. Therefore all bachelor’s programs offer 59 credits, approximately 32%, in the form of open electives. Another by product of this approach is it also is more forgiving of course corrections early in a student’s career and allows them some latitude to pursue special interests.
    I think what CCME’s annual symposium brings to light each year is that institutions really need focus if they are going to emerge with the effort needed bridge these types of gaps. Often military support departments are small and don’t receive the attention of senior administrators. Some of that will change with the new MOU that all schools using TA must sign but we need to keep surfacing the issues and looking for creative solutions.

  2. Fran Kelly
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Cali, I found your observations most interesting and wish I had been there. I directed Navy Voluntary Education from 1976 to 1999-22 years and was instrumental in bringing educational technology into the program…Navy was first to do this but I remain concerned that so great a proportion of the delivery is on-line…many military students need assistance with programs and while on-line is popular primarily because it is so convenient…there are many issues. Wish you and I could talk sometime.

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