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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Valor Act Will Require UMass Campuses to Evaluate Military Learning


“You can’t tell somebody to just forget sixty credits.”

The University of Massachusetts Boston will soon be required by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education to create a policy for awarding credit to student veterans based on the training they received in the armed forces.

According to the Valor Act Academic Credit Evaluation Policy, passed in June, the board “encourages and expects public higher education institutions to award academic credit for students’ previous military occupation, military training, coursework and experiences towards degrees and certificates.”

The board’s act is itself a result of the 2012 Massachusetts Act Relative to Veterans’ Access, Livelihood, Opportunity and Resources, also referred to as the Valor Act. The Valor Act included several other sections that gave more support to veteran-owned small businesses and military families, including families of service members who died in combat.

The board’s act requires each of the public colleges and universities in Massachusetts to implement a standard procedure for awarding credit for military training by July 2014. The policies will be similar at each school “to the greatest extent possible,” allowing “consistent application by all Massachusetts public higher education institutions.” Credits awarded would transfer between all public colleges and universities in the state.

Each institution will be required to print their policy regarding military learning credits in their catalogue and on their website, then periodically re-submit that policy to the Board of Higher Education for regular evaluations. The schools will also appoint a staff member to advise veterans who qualify for credits and publicize that staff person’s name.

Previously, UMass Boston has rarely awarded credits to veterans for the training — often in subjects like computer science or chemistry — that teaches those in the armed forces how to be technicians and engineers. Many student veterans are surprised to discover that they have few credits under their belts when they enter the school.

Patrick O’Brien, the coordinator of the Student Veterans Center during the 2012-2013 school year, explains, “There is no state standard to how transfer credits are awarded … veterans are often short-changed for credits.”
More than receiving any credit for science classes taken while he was in service, sociology and psychology major Om Goeckermann, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, is interested in having his experiences in the military count as a World Culture/World Languages course. 

A class in the World Cultures or World Languages distribution is all that stands between Goeckermann — who lived in Italy and France as a child — and graduation. He tried to meet this requirement with a Latin class over the summer, but the class was cancelled. Now he is graduating a semester late, and has lost his financial aid because he’s no longer a half-time student.

At the beginning of the first Gulf War, Goeckermann earned an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in the Middle East. According to the U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry, this medal is awarded for “service abroad in U.S. military operations, operations in support of the United Nations, and U.S. operations of assistance to friendly foreign nations.”
“Anyone sent into a combat area will have one, which means that they have had cultural-familiarity training and first-hand experience worthy of credit,” Goeckermann reports. “It is equivalent to — at the very least — a 100- or 200-level course in the World Cultures distribution.”

“I had not considered my military experience as a resource of credits … However, military documentation is currently the only verifiable means that I have to prove certain experiences.

“I’d be graduating right now if my experiences were taken into account.”

Barry Brodsky, director of the Veterans Upward Bound program at UMass Boston, a pre-collegiate preparatory program for veterans, ran into the same problem when he was a student. “It happens often,” he says.

Brodsky only had 12 credits worth of military training. “It has no impact on my life that I had to spend an extra semester,” he says, but “for somebody who thinks they have 60 credits, that’s a different ballgame.

“You can’t tell somebody to just forget 60 credits.”

Electrical engineering major Justin Bowman, a former nuclear electronics technician with the U.S. Navy, was sent to a number of in-house training schools while in the military. According to his Sailor-Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript (SMART transcript) awarded by the American Council on Education, Bowman has earned 198 credits, but UMass Boston has accepted none.

The SMART transcript is a guide for accreditation for military training and experience — but not one that schools are required to accept.

“I wouldn’t have minded so much if they knocked out my gen. ed requirements,” Bowman remarks,  “but they wouldn’t give me any credit whatsoever.”

According to Brodsky, service members in training programs often have no idea that some schools won’t accept their credits because recruiters never mention that possibility.

“That part of it they don’t tell you about, so some people get quite a shock when they come here.”

A call to the Boston Metro Army Career Center was answered by a man who at first said that “colleges give credit for training.” When asked whether he meant to refer to all colleges, he paused, then admitted, “It depends on the college.

“I can’t speak for every college, but there are some that work hand-in-hand with the military and give a lot of credit.”

Boston’s research institutions include: Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Suffolk University, and Tufts University. Of these, none routinely accept military learning for credit except Northeastern.

Veteran Darius Brown, who studies sociology, economics, and communications, says he “used the credits in the military that I received for my associate’s,” transferring his courses from his SMART transcript to an online institution called American Military University, then transferring his two-year degree from that university to UMass Boston. In this way, Brown was able to get his military training counted.

Brodsky has been advocating for a change for years, and has already talked to state senators about the issue. “We just kept hitting a brick wall,” he explains. “We’d get ‘This is great, this is great,’ and then calls and emails wouldn’t get returned.”

Until the policy is implemented, he thinks that UMass Boston is missing out. “If I was running a state school, getting veterans to come in who qualify for the new GI Bill — it’s easy money,” he said, adding, “You don’t have to deal with student loans. … The money just comes in in a check and bing! It’s done!”

Goeckermann has his own reason to believe that veterans need more credits: student morale.

“Forcing veterans to take redundant and menial courses costs them time and money, diminishes motivation, and will potentially push those making decisions about advanced degrees away from UMass Boston. 

“Every school ought to embrace bright students and help them progress.”