Military personnel and veterans are eager to learn…and most of them do so using educational technologies and distance learning. Given that the United States has been involved in two wars for more than a decade, how do they defend the country and earn a degree in their spare time?

Cheryl Dowd and I attended the recent Council of College and Military Educators (CCME) conference, which attracts those interested in educating active duty military personnel, their families, base/post personnel, and veterans. Those attending represent all branches of the military, higher education institutions, and educational service officers who serve the students on a base or post…or virtually.

Two innovations really caught my eye. One is a massive advance in the complex world of professional credentialing in which active duty personnel can learn about and earn credentials recognized in the civilian world. The other innovation is an interesting experiment in conducting a quality review of institutions serving the military. The review is based on the philosophies of simplicity and transparency.

Credentialing is, Literally, COOL

Kudos to the Army for a re-imagining of how to encourage and enable soldiers to obtain professional credentials. These “credentials” are the industry-relevant in the civilian sector for someone to enter a profession. For some professions, it is a certificate. For others, it is the knowledge and skills to sit for a licensing exam. What they did:

Slide showing sample alignments between military training and civilian credential exam objectives. Shown are three scenarios with perfect alignment, partial alignment, and not closely aligned.
Slide from a presentation on mapping objectives.
  • They identified the knowledge, skills, and training requirements for every position that a soldier could hold. They also identified civilian professional credentials that matched some, most, or all of the Army’s requirements.
  • They mapped the Army requirements to the civilian requirements. They identify any gaps between the Army and civilian requirements.
  • They share this information on an easy-to-use website called COOL for Credentialing Opportunities On-Line.
  • They pay for soldiers to take any assessments required to obtain a credential. They pay for only one attempt and success rates are high.

The employability of veterans has always been an issue. With COOL, soldiers are asked to think about gaining civilian professional credentials early in their military career. Gone are the days when a soldier begins thinking about such credentials in the last few months of his or her enlistment. By gaining the credentials early, the soldier practices the trade and has experience prior to leaving the service. The Army was so successful with this program that all the other services have quickly followed their lead to create similar COOL websites.

Credentialing Observations and Implications for the Rest of Us:

  • Student-Centered. COOL is laser focused on the needs of its audience.
  • This is a fabulous treatment of making a complex credentialing puzzle understandable to the lay person. Should we be replicating this outside of the military application?
  • Not Just Higher Education. The criteria for inclusion of a credential is that it is the one recognized by the industry or profession. It DOES NOT HAVE to be offered by an accredited institution. This is explicit acknowledgement that the world of credentials is morphing before our eyes and is no longer limited to traditional colleges and universities.

An Innovative Swing at the Elusive Quality Review Piñata

More than 2,700 educational providers signed the Department of Defense Memorandum of Understanding that they will follow certain rules and guidelines in serving active duty students receiving “Tuition Assistance” financial aid. Over the last decade, the Department of Defense attempted multiple not-always-so-successful initiatives to assess or audit institutions that signed the agreement.

Iwo Jima statue of marines raising a flag on the top of a mountain.The Department introduced a new review process at the CCME conference. Some interesting hallmarks of this new effort are a) to focus initially on data that is already being reported and b) be very transparent with the formulas used and results obtained.

Each institution will be ranked on the following six risk factors for students using Tuition Assistance (TA) and an overall ranking will be obtained (I apologize if I have some of the metrics incorrectly reported:

  • Rate of Course Completion: ((Total TA enrollments at an institution) – (TA Enrollments not completed or failed)) / (Total TA enrollments at an institution)
  • Sum of Total Complaint Cases. They addressed that their research showed that institutions with larger enrollments did not have significantly more complaints than those with smaller enrollments.
  • Enrollment Changes: Year-to-year change in TA enrollments.
  • Cost to Graduation Ratio: A calculation using graduation rate (presumably TA grad rate, but even that raised a question) and the average cost (do they mean price to the student?) of a course compared to the average cost of a course for all students.
  • Outcome Stability Ratio: The average graduation rate for the institution over a number of years.
  • Transaction Volume: The total number of TA transactions processed by an institution across all services in a given year.

I am not commenting in more depth until I see the full details of each of these calculations and the overall ranking methodology.

This is just the first step, as the top 50 institutions will receive additional questions that promise not to be too intrusive or time-consuming. An additional 200 institutions will be randomly sampled to also receive the questionnaire. Of the sampled institutions, twenty-five institutions will be selected for an in-depth survey process and up to five may undergo on-site visits. Institutions found to be out-of-compliance with the Memorandum of Understanding will be given time to show that they have corrected these discrepancies.

Credentialing Observations and Implications for the Rest of Us:

  • Cost/Price. Given WCET’s recent work on the cost and price of distance education, it is notable that economic considerations have become a factor in this review process. We can probably expect more such analysis in the future outside of the military.
  • I’m not a fan of ranking, but this is an innovative and much more transparent use of them. As with any ranking, will the institutions begin touting their ranking in their marketing materials? Undoubtedly. Is that bad? Not if these “risk factors” work. Will it cause gaming of the numbers? Likely.
  • If this simple-to-understand, transparent model is seen as successful, will accrediting agencies be encouraged to develop similar measures?

Let’s continue to watch these innovations from the military. We can learn from them.

Finally, congratulations to Lane Huber of Bismarck State College, at the close of the conference, he assumed the rank of chair of the CCME Board.

Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat
Ready for baseball and regulatory season.


Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies    @russpoulin




Photo Credits:
Presentation slide: Russ Poulin
Iwo Jima Flag Raising:


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