Postsecondary Institutions Give Credit to Veterans for Prior Learning

Working with student veterans on a daily basis, Jan Del Signore sees the challenges of making the transition from military service to civilian life, especially when assisting those building credentials to find sustainable employment.

“Each service member brings with them a unique military experience,” said Del Signore, associate vice chancellor of military affairs at Keiser University and president of the Florida Advisory Council on Military Education. “Supporting military training for college credit when and where applicable will help the student reach their academic goal of graduation, helping with their transition back to the civilian sector.”

Unlike many college students, military veterans bring a set of skills and past training, but are less likely to persist to a degree and more likely to be unemployed. When postsecondary institutions offer college credit for prior learning in the military, most students complete college faster, attain a degree or credential and leave with less student debt.

In “Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success: A 48-Institution Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes,” the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning found those students completing an evaluation of past experiences had higher degree-earning rates than those who did not earn credit for prior learning. More than half of students utilizing a prior learning assessment—or PLA—earned a degree within seven years. Only 21 percent of those not completing such an assessment completed their degree.

The study found that students who used prior learning assessments working toward bachelor’s degrees saved an average of between 2.5 and 10.1 months of time in earning their degrees, compared to students who did not use such assessments. Students earning 13 to 24 PLA credits saved an average of 6.6 months, and those earning 49 or more PLA credits saved an average of 10.1 months. Each month saved directly relates to the amount of student debt at graduation. 

“Providing academic credit for military training and experience does not only benefit the service member with degree attainment, it also establishes and communicates (the) clear value of their service to employers,” said Dawn McDaniel, president of Bravo Delta Consulting and a member of CSG’s Subcommittee on Veterans’ Concerns. 

“With the all-volunteer force, few civilian employers truly understand the value military experience brings to the workforce. However, they typically understand the value of a college degree,” said McDaniel. “Acknowledging military training and experience through academic credit establishes clear, tangible evidence of the value of this experience.”

The American Council on Education released a report, “Credit for Prior Learning From the Student, Campus and Industry Perspective,” focused on the evaluation of college-level knowledge and skills. The report found that credit for prior learning is increasingly seen as a strategy for advancing increased degree attainment, especially among adult nontraditional students. Prior learning assessments and credit for prior learning are viewed by postsecondary institutions as an alternative mode of academic credentialing that benefit adults wanting to earn a degree or advanced credential, including those returning from military service.

Collaboration among the American Association of Community Colleges, American Council on Education, and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning supported three community colleges in the creation of road maps for student veterans. Their goal was to increase postsecondary degree attainment for veterans, utilize prior training to award credit and assist with transitions to college and the workforce.

Maps to Credentials, a project funded by the Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education, designed roadmaps with Fayetteville Technical Community College in North Carolina, Inver Hills Community College in Minnesota and Miami Dade College in Florida. 

The project is focusing on military veterans, a population with college-level skills and knowledge gained through military service, which are essential to the country’s workforce. Program areas focus on business administration, emergency medical services, logistics management, criminal justice, law enforcement and culinary technology to build on veterans’ past learning coupled with needs of the business communities they serve.