Getting a college degree can help graduates get jobs and earn higher wages, but veterans and active military service members may face obstacles on their way to degree completion. Along with their studies, they often commit time to family, work and military service.
As a scholar who works with the College Board and studies barriers and solutions to college completion, I have seen at least one promising way to get military personnel across the college finish line – a short exam that offers college credits towards a degree.
Students of all backgrounds face uncertainty in whether they will complete college, but military personnel and veterans can face additional challenges.
The Millions Records Project tracked the enrollment patterns of nearly one million active military personnel and veterans who used Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits between 2002 and 2010. These service members do not fit the “traditional” – and perhaps old-fashioned – profile of a college student. Relative to nonmilitary students, service members and veterans are on average older, more likely to work and support families, and can have delayed or interrupted enrollment due to service obligations.
On top of all of that, many veterans have service-related disabilities that can make college completion difficult.
These challenges, in addition to those faced by many students in higher education, contribute to veteran and active military students leaving college with no degree.
Along with my colleagues who study economics and higher education, I recently completed a study looking at the effectiveness of one particular tool that may help military students complete their college degrees.
The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) is a 90- to 120-minute exam administered by the College Board that offers credits in lieu of completing college coursework. Nearly 3,000 colleges offer credit for 33 different CLEP exams in topics including literature, mathematics, world languages, social and hard sciences and business.
Students can take a CLEP exam whenever they choose – before enrolling in college or as they near graduation. Depending on the college campus and CLEP exam, students with high enough scores (typically a 50 on a scale of 20 to 80) are eligible for college credit.
The Department of Defense has an agency dedicated to improving the educational experiences and outcomes for veteran and active military students: Defense Activity for Non Traditional Education Support (DANTES). DANTES pays the US$80 CLEP exam fee for active duty military and offers the exams on some military bases.
Eighty dollars and travel to a testing center may not seem like something to stand in the way of enrolling in or graduating from college. But these types of small barriers prevent students’ success in other contexts, like taking the SAT or ACT and enrolling in college. For active military, at least, DANTES has removed some of these obstacles.
Why might CLEP help military servicemen and servicewomen complete college?
For one, getting credit for introductory and lower-level courses improves college completion, as seen with Advanced Placement courses and exams. Additionally, these credits can allow students to bypass some lower-level courses that might have content or less academically prepared classmates that discourage students from continuing with their education.
Using approximately 200,000 military-affiliated CLEP examinees, we found that those who start at two-year colleges and receive college credit for CLEP exam scores are 18 percent more likely to attain an associate’s degree than those who did not receive such credits. Similarly, military personnel who start at four-year colleges and earn credit through CLEP are 11 percent more likely to attain a bachelor’s degree.
With this evidence, we can think about what might happen if we got more military personnel to pass CLEP exams – either through increased participation or improved scores.
In a world of countless college completion efforts and policies, an 18 or even 11 percent increase is noteworthy. More successful interventions are rare and can be costly.
Colleges, policymakers and researchers should continue trying new paths to get military members college degrees, but my research suggests that CLEP is a viable one. Earning college credit through exams is a cheap and unusually effective way to improve the completion rates for any student, but perhaps especially so for military personnel who face challenges and outside commitments. Not to mention, the exam is fully subsidized.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Chris Rathkey is studying Fire Science at Coconino Community College.
“CCC takes care of their veterans, plain and simple,” Rathkey said. “They take great pride in not only honoring their veterans, but doing everything they can to support us.”
Faculty and staff at CCC have put in place a number of features meant to help veterans who decide to enroll in school have a successful experience. The focus is to bring the services to the veterans.
“Coconino Community College appreciates the services of our veterans and we know that they have a great deal of skills and experience to share with our communities,” said CCC President Colleen A. Smith. “Our goal is to encourage and help them to find the educational path they want so they can continue to serve our country as civilians.”
The Veterans Center at the CCC Lone Tree Campus was dedicated on Veterans Day in 2013. The College serves about 150 veterans a year, and the leadership recognized the need to create a space for veterans to congregate, be among others who have gone through similar experiences, and receive services.
This year, the Veterans Center was renovated with the help of a grant from S.E.E.4Vets, an organization dedicated to helping veterans transition from military service back into civilian life. The Home Depot Foundation, SounDecision, Herron Interior Design, Inc., Classic Leather, Inc., and the CCC Facilities staff all assited in the remodel.
S.E.E.4Vets bestowed a second grant to CCC to help veterans with tutoring services and offer funds to veterans to pay fees associated with their education they might not otherwise be able to afford.
The CCC Veterans Center also has a veteran services advisor and school certifying official to help connect veterans to resources they might need in the community as well as keeping veterans on track to succeeding in their educational goals.
CCC also offers scholarships to veterans through the College’s Foundation. Two scholarships are set aside specifically for veterans. A Veterans Scholarship is available for any veteran student honorably discharged from any branch of the U.S. military. The U.S. Marine League Scholarship, which Rathkey is a recipient of this year, is available to any U.S. Marine honorably discharged from the Corps.
A Mobile Vet Center comes to the CCC campus about once a month as part of a cooperative effort between the College and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Staff in the Mobile Vet Center give veterans information on various benefits to which they are entitled. The mobile center also helps veterans at CCC and across northern Arizona connect with health care, disability services and compensation, educational benefits, vocational rehabilitation, home loans and more. Services include: individual counseling, group counseling, sexual trauma counseling, bereavement counseling, marital and family counseling, alcohol counseling, benefits assistance and referral, employment counseling and referral, community education, referral to community agencies, and information regarding local and national veteran organizations and projects.
As part of this year's Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society’s “Honors in Action” project, chapter officers are working in conjunction with CCC's Veteran Services to assemble holiday care packages for military personnel deployed to Iraq and Syria.
At this time, we are asking for your help in securing donations to be included in the care packages. The turnaround time for the collection of items is short; items are due by Nov. 15, 10 a.m. Drop off donations at the Lone Tree Commons, 2800 S. Lone Tree Road.
PHOENIX -- Embattled state Rep. Don Shooter was suspended Friday from his position as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
The move by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard came amid an ever-expanding list of allegations of sexual harassment against the Yuma Republican. Most recently, Mi-Ai Parrish, publisher of the Arizona Republic, said Friday that Shooter last year made a sexist and racist comment joke while she and her attorney were in his office.
Mesnard, in a prepared statement, said Shooter will not only lose his chairmanship while a special House committee investigate the charges against him.
"He will not be taking any budgetary meetings, chairing hearings, or engaged in any budget discussion or any duties related to Appropriations until the investigation has concluded,'' the speaker said. That leaves him out of the process when House and Senate GOP leaders prepare a nearly $10 billion spending plan ahead of the new legislative session that begins in January.
Mesnard said Shooter will receive "a fair, thorough investigation into his behavior'' before any decisions are made about whether a violation of House rules has occurred and what punishment, if any, should be imposed. That could range from a censure to expulsion, the latter requiring a two-thirds vote of the 60 members.
The decision to remove Shooter -- or anyone -- as chair of a committee is totally within the purview of the speaker. And Mesnard said it should not be seen as punishment but instead as in the best interests of the legislative process.
"I'm not casting judgment on Mr. Shooter at this time,'' he said. "I don't believe he can properly fulfill his obligations as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee until that investigation has concluded.''
Mesnard said he spoke with Shooter ahead of Friday's announcement.
"I'm not going to speak for him,'' he said.
"He probably doesn't feel like much of this is fair,'' Mesnard continued. "But I think he understands from a process standpoint this is necessary, even if he's not happy about it.''
Shooter declined Friday to comment on the action.
Mesnard conceded that the sudden flood of allegations against Shooter and others perhaps should not be a surprise. "Clearly, we have tolerated things in the past that we shouldn't have,'' Mesnard said. "And people are standing up, and rightly so.''
Mesnard said he hopes to address that with ethics training for lawmakers and staff covering "everything from sexual harassment to sexism to quid-pro-quo to appropriate talk on the House floor.'' And he said things will change.
"If there is any suggestion that in the past we may have just rolled our eyes at something or ignored something, we're going to be much more strict moving forward,'' Mesnard said.
Mesnard said what happen going forward depends on the findings of a panel of seven House staffers he appointed Thursday to look into all the allegations, and not just against Shooter. But while the speaker said he is reserving judgment, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is not. Spokesman Garrick Taylor said the group, which has backed Shooter in previous elections, thinks he should resign from the Legislature entirely -- and do it now.
"These are deeply disturbing allegations,'' Taylor said. "And it is behavior that does not comport with the way elected officials ought to behave.''
And Taylor said that if Shooter does not quit and is not expelled from the House, there is "a high degree of certainty'' that his organization will not support him for another two year term.
At a hastily called press conference Friday, Mesnard acknowledged that he was aware when he named Shooter to chair the committee in January that the Yuma Republican had a self-proclaimed reputation as someone whose actions and words might raise questions. Mesnard said that came up when Shooter earlier this year suggested he might run for speaker.
"He, in a somewhat playful way, talked about maybe drinking a little bit less, sort of joking in certain ways a little bit less,'' the speaker said.
"I think he acknowledged that sometimes, in his attempts to be playful, he might walk a line,'' Mesnard continued. "My admonishment to him was, 'Don't even get close to that line.' ''
The allegations, Mesnard said Friday, are serious.
Some date as far as 2011 when he was first elected to the state Senate. Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, detailed several, including asking her about whether her breasts were real, showing up with a six-pack of beer at her hotel room door, and saying he wants to be with her while telling her he was "a very powerful senator.''
But there also have been more recent incidents.
Rep. Wenona Benally, R-Window Rock, said she was in the lounge reserved for House members earlier this year when Shooter and another male lawmaker -- she did not say who -- sat across from her. Benally said Shooter "repeatedly referred to his male genitalia as a 'gun.' ''
And Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, also a first-term lawmaker, said Shooter made comments to her early this year that she would be "a nice view to look at.''
Separately, lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez charged that Shooter touched her knee at a dinner where she and a colleague were meeting with him about some legislation. And there are complaints of improper remarks by Shooter from two other unnamed lobbyists.
There also were allegations of sexist remarks by a former Arizona Capitol Times intern.
The most recent complaint came in the form of a column by Parrish about a meeting she and her attorney had with Shooter last year to discuss pending legislation which affected newspapers.
According to Parrish, Shooter said he is an independent think and said he had done everything on his "bucket list,'' with one exception. When she asked Shooter what that was, he responded, "those Asian twins in Mexico.''
Parrish, who is Korean-American, wrote that this was "a demeaning, sexual and racial comment to me in his office, in front of my attorney.''
"That's not right,'' she wrote. "And that's the truth.''
Mesnard said the special panel also is looking into complaints against Ugenti-Rita by Shooter. While the speaker was not providing specifics, Shooter said in an earlier statement that saying she had "a very public affair'' with a House staffer while she was still married, and that she made a joke about masturbation during a committee hearing.
And House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said in a statement she has been the victim of sexual harassment by other lawmakers, though she has not provided any names.