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College credit elusive for many Ohio veterans

Higher unemployment rate sparked changes in rules.

When Dana Kapp retired from the Navy in 1997 and pursued a degree in business management at Clark State Community College, she received nine credit hours for the training and experience she’d racked up during a 20-year military career.

Despite Gov. John Kasich’s executive order this year emphasizing the importance of giving Ohio veterans college credit for military training, it doesn’t always work as well as it did for Kapp.

Currently, training in the armed forces often isn’t applicable to a veteran’s new major, said Kapp, who now works as Clark State’s veterans services specialist.

The impetus for Kasich’s executive order was a 7.6 percent unemployment rate for veterans in Ohio in 2012, coupled with an unemployment rate of 12.8 percent for post-9/11 veterans.

Kasich in June issued the executive order to increase the number of veterans earning degrees and certificates, said Jeff Robinson, spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents.

Veterans often enroll in college believing they’ll get a lot of credit, Kapp said, when, in fact, the veterans she’s working with this fall have nothing that applies toward their choice of studies.

That’s led to something of a misconception, she said.

She used the case of an enlisted veteran who left the service with a rank of E-3, which would be a private first class in the Army, a seaman in the Navy and Coast Guard, a lance corporal in the Marines or an airman first class in the Air Force.

“They’ve got some soft skills. They’re disciplined,” Kapp said. “But, as far as their technical skills, they’re not going to have much to transcript.”

A recent infantryman who now wants to become a paramedic through Clark State, she explained, would likely only get a half credit hour for being certified in first aid and would get a PE credit for enduring boot camp, even though no degree at the college requires PE.

But, there’s no standard.

“Every soldier, sailor and airman has had different training, different experiences,” Kapp said.

Kasich directed Ohio’s 14 universities and 23 community colleges to review their policies on how they identify military education and training for credit in an attempt to simplify and streamline the process across the state.

The schools have until Dec. 31 to identify state and federal laws that prevent them from revising those policies.

The order also directed state departments to streamline the licensing process to take relevant military experience into account.

“We’re trying to best determine how to award credit,” said Robinson, spokesman for the board of regents.

Clark State has always evaluated military training for credit, Kapp said, and is working to cater to the area’s vast veteran population even more.

Kapp’s position, while currently only half-time, was created last spring, and the college will soon begin asking applicants for the first time whether they served in the military.

Clark State also has plans to form a student group for veterans, and at commencement last year, unveiled a special red, white and blue honor cord for veterans who were graduating.

The board of regents is going through surveys now that were returned by each of Ohio’s colleges and universities, Robinson said, about how veterans are served on each campus and how they’re awarded credit.

“They served our country,” he said. “We want to do our part for them.”

The scenario Kasich has commonly used — that a military truck driver should be able to get a commercial license with ease — certainly holds true.

Credit is most easily awarded, Kapp said, if a veteran wants to perform the same job they did in the military.

But, most often, they’re in school because they want a change of pace. And that’s where military training often doesn’t count toward their new major or program.

Recalling her own days as a Clark State business student, Kapp received credit for classes in sales and marketing, leadership in organization and public speaking — all deemed applicable from her job as a Navy recruiter.

Computer training Kapp received in the Navy, however, didn’t transfer, she said, because so much time had lapsed, making those skills virtually obsolete.

Kapp said veterans should be realistic when they come to college, but they should still submit their military records “to help them achieve their degree faster and cheaper.”

Clark State, for one, keeps a veteran’s records on file in case they change majors. But, Kapp said, they’re cautious about listing non-applicable military training on college transcripts, even if requested.

“We could put it on there,” she said, “but all it does is make you feel good.”

Even more, it could actually count against the veteran if they need to seek financial aid outside of the GI Bill. Of the 149 veterans at Clark State this fall using education benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, half use a mix of financial aid, she said.

“It looks like you’re just taking classes to take classes and get financial aid,” Kapp said, adding that taking too many non-applicable classes currently raises a red flag with lenders.

“We’re only reluctant to put it on there,” she said, “because it could hurt them.”

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