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Illinois vets can earn college credit through military experience

Marines from 6th Communications Battalion, Marine Forces Reserve, marched in the annual New York Veterans Day parade Nov. 11. This year marks the 92nd anniversary of the New York Veterans Day Parade. The parade is hosted by the United War Veterans Council, Inc. on behalf of the city of New York. It is the oldest and largest of its kind in the nation. Since Nov. 11, 1919, the parade has provided an opportunity for Americans and international visitors to honor those who have served in the nation's largest city. Sgt. Dakota Meyer, the recently awarded Marine Medal of Honor recipient, rode in the parade. Major Gen. Melvin Spiese, deputy commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force, represented the Marine Corps as one of the reviewing officials of the parade.

Veterans in Illinois will have the opportunity to apply their military training and expertise to their college careers after leaving the service, under a program sponsored by Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The goal is for veterans to be able to earn college credit from their military experience. Math, science, even physical education credits, for instance, could be based on a veteran’s previous military training.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a educational model used in various industries and that Illinois is looking to apply to its former servicemen and women.  A state task force was created last year to see how to achieve that.

Some institutions, however, don’t offer Prior Learning Assessment because they don’t have the administrative capacity, and they have professional accreditation requirements that don’t allow prior learning assessment, according to a Illinois Board of Higher Education presentation.

“Ninety-percent of Illinois institutions said that they have limits on the number of PLA credits that can count towards a degree, which I don’t feel is right; it shouldn’t be a set number,” said Amy Sherman, the board’s associate vice president.

The board worked closely with the task force on coming up with recommendations for veterans, state officials note.

The Military Prior Learning Assessment Task Force was created in summer 2015 through legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. The 16-member group, which held its first meeting last month, is looking to greatly expand college education and work opportunities for Illinois veterans.

Along with applying their military learning toward academic credit via Prior Learning Assessment, other recommendations include being able to apply industry-recognized credentials and college degrees through PLA.

“We want to try and help adult learners be able to successfully complete degree programs without being stopped because they don’t have academic credit,” said Arthur Sutton, the board’s deputy director.

A veteran himself, Sutton said he’s excited to lead the task force because he wished that someone would have came up with this program when he came out of the military.

The task force is aiming for the state’s veteran population to have a recognized credential following college so they can enter the workforce.

“A lot of veterans who have fought for us are homeless because they can’t find or get a job because they lack a college degree, and we want to change that,” said Amanda Winters, assistant director of Academic Affairs for the State Board of Higher Education.

“The purpose of this task force,” Winters added, “is to help make it easier for veterans to be able to get a college degree.”

A veteran should be able to take his or her Joint Services Transcripts, which they can receive from American Council on Education, to the institution they’re trying to attend, Sherman said.

Through their recognized military training and experience, they should be able to earn college credit and receive their degree, Sherman said.

Sutton noted that PLA students, according to research, show higher GPA’s, earn degrees quicker, and have better retention and completion rates than those students without the PLA experience.

Sherman said that institutions need to have dedicated resources for military or veteran. PLA, she added, “will be vital for helping military students maximize the credits that are awarded for their training.”

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