Issues Regarding Academic Credit for Veterans and Military Service Members: Doing What Is Best for Students

Curriculum Committee
San Diego Miramar College

The rising number of veterans and military service members at our colleges has prompted a concomitant rise in services and campus resources to assist them as they transition to civilian academic life. Colleges have developed student services to deal with the numerous issues that affect veterans in particular, including academic counseling, psychological services, and financial aid counseling to name a few. Veterans’ resource services have expanded enormously to meet the needs of military service members.

Along with student services, meeting the academic needs of veterans has also become a significant concern. At the Spring 2011 plenary session, delegates passed Resolution 18.04 that read,

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges urge local senates to apply credit for educational experiences during military service toward the associate degree – including the fulfillment of general education, major coursework, and other degree requirements – in accordance with the recommendations listed in the American Council on Education (ACE) Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services;

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges provide training on the use of the American Council on Education (ACE) Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services by enlisting degree; and

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges encourage colleges to offer credit by exam for veterans wishing to demonstrate comparable skills and understanding of course content through examination means established by discipline faculty.

This resolution anticipated the need to consider the complicated issues arising from veterans who have served in a variety of capacities in the military and who have been told that their experiences could be considered for academic credits.

Such consideration of complicated veterans’ issues has been further raised by Assembly Concurrent Resolution 159 (Sept. 18, 2012, Gorell and Ma): “Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, the Senate thereof concurring, That California Community Colleges, the California State University, and the University of California are encouraged to consider and adopt the American Council on Education credit recommendations to give veterans due credit for their military experience, which will result in more veterans graduating from a public postsecondary educational institution, and will help ensure the success of our veterans at our public postsecondary educational institutions . . . . “

The critical difference between the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges resolution and the California Assembly Concurrent Resolution rests in the language regarding where credit should come from: academic experiences in the military (ASCCC) or military experience (CA Assembly). “Military credit” can be thought of as a category of transfer credit to California community colleges and the California State Universities. In the case of military students, “military credit” can include military training and coursework and military experience. However, the greater difficulty lies in determining whether or not that credit applies to unit requirements, general education or graduation requirements, or major and major preparation requirements.

The American Council on Education (ACE) helps to address this issue with its “Military Guide Online” ( The ACE Guide is the standard reference for recognizing learning acquired in the military and for evaluating and making determinations regarding military coursework and occupations, as well as providing credit recommendations. All of these determinations are based on the work of teams of civilian faculty members (6-10 members) from all levels of higher education who evaluate military courses or occupations, reach consensus, and make the recommendations.

Colleges use a variety of methods to apply military credit toward degree requirements, including formal policy, articulation, evaluation, and petition. Several issues need to be kept in mind as both the Chancellor’s Office and local colleges determine how to handle military credit. At the forefront is keeping the best interests of students as the ultimate consideration.

The first issue concerns requirements versus credits. Most colleges and universities apply ACE-evaluated military coursework toward the credit requirement for a degree (minimum 60 semester units for an associate degree or 120 semester units for a bachelor’s degree). But usually this credit fulfills few or no requirements for the degree beyond counting toward the minimum number of units (i.e. elective credit). And most community college students—not just service members or veterans—have no need of additional elective credit, since they often will exceed the minimum number of units required for their degree in the course of their education.

The challenge, then, is in clearing other degree requirements using military credit in a way that both benefits the student and upholds the academic integrity of the degree. For example, many colleges use military experience or coursework--such as basic training—to clear campus-specific GE requirements such as physical activity or health education. Similarly, all CSU campuses have confirmed they will accept a CCC’s certification of CSU GE Area E (Lifelong Learning and Self Development) using military credit.

In addition to these GE examples, some military coursework or experience may also fulfill specific requirements toward the student’s major. This scenario would likely apply in cases where the student is majoring in a subject closely related to the student’s military specialty. For example, several major courses required for an associate degree in office technologies might be fulfilled using military credit for a student who was an information technology specialist in the military. Conversely, students majoring in areas unrelated to their military specialties would be very unlikely to have military credit applicable to their major requirements for their new fields of study. In the example above, for instance, the student’s previous military coursework in information technology would not fulfill requirements for a degree in physics.

Second, potential problems arise regarding duplication of credit resulting in additional unnecessary elective units as opposed to fulfilling requirements. For example, a student might have passed the Information Systems and Computer Applications CLEP test as well as a credit by exam test for the college’s Introduction to Computer Information Systems class. This student now potentially has four different sources of credit: ACE-recommended credit for military coursework, ACE-recommended credit for military experience, credit from the CLEP test, and credit for the college course passed via credit by exam. Yet all of these sources of credit arise from the same experience—learning that occurred during the student’s military service—and all are likely to fulfill the same requirement toward the degree.

Third, content differences between military experience or coursework and academic coursework can raise potential issues. An example given at the ACE training for possible coursework credit is the job of military recruiter. According to the ACE recommendations, a military recruiter could potentially receive credit for a marketing course and a communications course based on the student’s military coursework and occupational experience. However, the marketing and communications content learned in the military may not be comparable to content learned via college-level academic courses in these areas. Clearing the college course requirements may therefore disadvantage the student later when taking more advanced coursework in the field or in cases where the course is cleared by the CCC for the associate degree major requirement but the same course is not cleared by the student’s university for the bachelor’s degree.

A California community college can become more “veteran friendly” in the acceptance of academic credit in several possible ways:

  • Establish a policy to award credit for military coursework at the appropriate level as recommended by the ACE guide. The CSU system already has this policy in place system-wide; a similar policy at the CCCs seems reasonable.
  • Use military credit to certify CSU GE Area E. All CSU campuses have agreed to accept this method of certification from the sending CCC.
  • Use military credit to clear associate degree GE and graduation requirements whenever possible. Some examples include health education, physical activity, or lifelong learning requirements.
  • Align the college’s acceptance and use of CLEP tests to that of the CSU system. Many veterans take CLEP tests during or after their military service, and the CSU system has a policy in place on the acceptance and use of these tests to fulfill both unit and GE requirements.
  • Evaluate veterans’ military transcripts to identify military credit that may fulfill major requirements. Some military courses may clearly be comparable to those offered at CCCs, particularly in CTE areas. Others may not be comparable but could still fulfill the intent and purpose of the CCC major requirement (e.g. a restricted elective requirement intended to provide breadth of experience in the subject area or a work experience/internship requirement).

As CCC campuses and the CCC Chancellor’s office try to accommodate veterans and other military personnel, the focus must be on how best to serve these students. As recommended in the ASCCC resolution, we need to ensure that credit by exam procedures have been put into place at our local colleges. We need to implement policies and procedures focused on helping student veterans progress expeditiously through their education. And we need to remember that students who have endured the rigors of military service do not need additional stress as they try to reach their academic goals.