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Maximize Your Military Training for College Credit (ACE and DANTES)

How do you leverage your military training and experience for potential college credit?

By Michele Spires, Director, Military Programs, American Council on Education (ACE)

How will you leverage your military training and experience? Are you thinking about pursuing a degree or earning an academic credential? Are you seeking a state license or certification? 

Earning academic credit for college courses can be accomplished in a number of ways. If you plan to enroll and complete college-level courses, your own military experience and training may lead to college credit recommendations you can seek to apply toward a degree requirement or program of study. It’s important to keep in mind that each academic institution will have their own policies and procedures to transfer and align military credit recommendations.  There are many other options, often called prior learning assessment or experiential learning, including departmental examinations, portfolio assessment, and testing programs like CLEP and DSST, which are college level examinations that often equate to specific courses at accepting colleges and universities. 

How do you get started?

First, as a military affiliated student seeking higher education, meet with your installation education center or virtual education center counselor prior to starting an educational program. If this contact is not readily available, the Defense Activity for Nontraditional Education Support (DANTES) web site has excellent resources. For instance, you can learn more about credit by exam through CLEP and DSST, gather information about the potential credit through military training, obtain details about distance learning programs and access career and education planning tools.

The DANTES mission is to support the off-duty, voluntary education programs of the Department of Defense (DoD) and to conduct special projects and development activities in support of education-related DoD functions. Programs and services offered by DANTES include:

  • Prep for college with access to tools such as an Online Academic Skills Course (OASC) and College Placement Skills Training (CPST), 
  • Free assessments and support through Kuder® Journey and online tutoring trough Tutor.com, and
  • Key links and resources to learn more about VA Education Benefits, Federal Financial Aid, Student Loans, College Admissions, and even how to choose a school. 

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) is another specialized contract managed by DANTES and is a key constituent for facilitating the application of military training, prior college courses, CLEP and DSST, the exam credit for military training into guaranteed student agreements and degree plans. The SOC Degree Network System (DNS) publishes articulations to map the credit sources into degree programs. Military affiliated students and counselors alike can use this information to plan course selection and incorporate additional test taking into the student’s degree completion strategy. 

Once you are prepared to begin your collegiate journey, ask your chosen institution about the articulation policies as they relate to credit by exam offered through CLEP and DSST, transfer courses and credit for military training documented on your military transcript. Schools should have policies in place for using these various sources of credit and be able to give you some idea of how the credits might be applied to your chosen pathway. 

How do you get organized?

Acceptance of transfer credit is determined by the receiving institution. When the college or university determines whether and how much credit to apply to your individual record, that credit will then appear on your transcript. Typically, grades are not included with the transfer process, so they are not factored in as part of the grade point average (GPA).

Academic institutions establish their own transfer credit policies and procedures. It is recommended that you identify and locate these policies first to help you understand the process and set a plan for making the most of your credit recommendations. When you research these policies, you will want to understand the details listed in the institution’s catalog or bulletin. Often, the transfer policies will be general in nature. As you continue to research transfer information, look for more specific requirements for credit being transferred from another accredited academic institution, the military, professional training, or testing. Many institutions also post their transfer policies on the institutional web site. You may want to search for keywords such as transfer credit; military transfer credit, or transfer policies.

There are a number of factors that affect transfer of military credit, such as institutional policy, alignment with appropriate courses, procedures, requirements, and transfer application deadlines. Here’s a quick checklist to help you facilitate your transfer credit experience:

  • Research and identify an academic institution that meets your needs as an individual and as a learner. You may want to select an institution and academic programs that have policies to maximize your nontraditional learning (military credit, CLEP, DANTES, etc.). 
  • Learn, understand, and know your academic institution’s policies and procedures regarding transfer of credit. These practices are established by each institution and will vary. 
  • Audit and review your military transcripts periodically (every six months if on active duty) for updates and modifications.
  • Start the transcript and transfer review process early, with your application to the institution. Have all of your official transcripts from previous colleges and service branches sent to your new school for evaluation before you start taking any classes. Official copies must bear the appropriate institutional signatures, seal and date of issuance. 
  • Speak with your academic adviser. He or she should be able to help you avoid taking classes for which you may receive transfer credit until an official evaluation is completed. Many students waste valuable time and money taking classes that are unnecessary duplications of previous courses, because they signed up before their military and prior college transcripts were completely evaluated.

In preparation for meeting or speaking with your academic adviser, consider these steps:

  • Review your degree plan and identify potential academic courses for transfer. 
  • Consider the level of the credit recommendation and analyze the appropriateness to the degree plan.
  • Identify the comparability of the course in terms of the credit recommendation. For example, how does the content of the institution’s academic course compare to the ACE exhibit in terms of the learning outcomes and topics
  • Take ownership during the transfer process by following up with the transfer, registrar or admissions department. 
  • Monitor your curriculum plan, transfer approvals, and documentation within formal university systems (degree audit).

By compiling and organizing this information, you will be ready to maximize your college credits, as well as have a better idea of the remaining courses you will need for degree completion. 

One online resource available to you is A Transfer Guide:  Understanding Your Military Transcript and ACE Credit Recommendations. This tool was developed to help you understand military transcripts and basic information about transfer policies and issues. The more successfully you navigate through the process of transfer credit for military training and experience, the bigger the return. The publication serves as a resource for understanding military credit recommendations, military transcripts, and its use when transferring to an academic institution.

The topics are presented in a straight-forward, non-technical manner that allows service members to quickly understand the American Council on Education (ACE) credit recommendations and transfer credit policies.

What about Military Transcripts?

Military transcripts provide documented evidence to colleges and universities of the professional military education and training and occupation experiences of service members and veterans. 

These official transcripts:

  • Provide a description of military schooling and work history in civilian language.
  • Display degrees, apprenticeships via 'United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP), certifications/licensure and tuition assistance courses (past or current) for Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy JST transcripts.
  • Serve as a tool for academic and career counselors in advising soldiers and veterans. 
  • Facilitate the preparation of resumes and explaining military work experience to civilian employers.

The Joint Services Transcript (JST)

The JST is a document that no service member or veteran should be without. The unified transcript resolved several redundancies and allows all stakeholders (military affiliated students, academic institutions, government agencies) to concentrate on one transcript that have the same look and feel for the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard. 

Similar to standard college transcripts, the document lists all courses and occupations completed by the military student. Many of the occupations and training courses have been evaluated by the ACE to include descriptions, academic subjects and the corresponding number of recommended college credits in semester hours. The JST is owned and managed by the respective Service. ACE provides quality assurance audits and provides the evaluation data to the services, but does not own student records and cannot make changes. ACE credit recommendations are recognized and considered by many regionally accredited colleges and universities throughout the United States. 

More than 2000 colleges and universities are part of ACE's College and University Partnership, and have agreed to review JST transcripts that are submitted for potential college credit. To ensure their JST is up to date and if necessary, fix any errors, military affiliated students should go to the Joint Services Transcript (JST) website and follow the procedures for obtaining a military transcript. 

The benefits of JST include an increased return on investment, uniformity and centralization and the alignment of service-specific information. 

Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) 

The Air Force continues to utilize the transcript services from the CCAF for their personnel. ACE does not evaluate any Air Force courses that are directly aligned with CCAF. The program model combines the technical education offered by Air Force schools, a core of general education from regionally accredited civilian institutions of higher education, and management education from Air Force or civilian sources.  CCAF is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Service members who started an Air Force course after April 1972 can obtain a CCAF transcript at http://www.airuniversity.af.mil/Barnes/CCAF/ 

What is the ACE Military Guide?

For more than a half century, the Guide to the Evaluation of Educational Experiences in the Armed Services has been the standard reference work for recognizing learning acquired in the military. The Military Guide (www.acenet.edu/militaryguide) contains ACE credit recommendations for formal courses and occupations offered by the services as individual exhibits. The Guide is a tool used synchronously with the JST to assists all users identify, evaluate, and award college credit for military training. 

The evaluation of courses and occupations is a continuous process executed by ACE. These entries are added daily and synchronized at 0200 ET every day. 

Visit the find Military Guide www.acenet.edu/militaryguide

Why the American Council on Education (ACE)?

Since 1945, ACE has evaluated military training and experiences to gauge their eligibility for college credit recommendations. In 1974, Military Programs began the assessment of military occupational specialties. More than 2,200 higher education institutions consider the Military Programs course credit recommendations; these credit recommendations can also assist in the service member’s career advancement. It is up to institutions to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to accept credit recommendations. ACE’s Military Programs is part of the Council’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation, whose mission includes helping more adult learners, like you, gain college degrees and credentials.

How are the courses and occupations reviewed?

Under contract with Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), ACE convenes teams of teaching faculty who travel to military installations to evaluate military training courses and occupation-based skills, knowledge and abilities. 

For the course review process, the assessment of learning outcomes is critical, since regional college and university accreditation bodies emphasize assessment of student learning. The course review team looks for the direct alignment of the learning objectives of the courses to ensure that the rigor of the assessment methods accurately and comprehensively measure individual student progress. The team is required to see evidence of the learning outcomes before making a credit recommendation, including tests, papers, projects and performance rubrics. Evaluators exercise professional judgment and consider only those competencies that can be equated with civilian postsecondary curricula.

Intensive courses offered by the military don’t necessarily require as much outside preparation. Evaluators consider the factors of pre- and post-course assignments, prior work-related experience, the concentrated nature of the learning experience and the reinforcement of the course material gained in the subsequent work setting.

The occupation evaluation is an assessment of a service member’s assigned profession to determine what learning has occurred above and beyond formal military training. The process involves an extensive review of the official service materials and then an interview with the service members currently working in the pay grade to validate the professional duty expectations. The occupation review process maintains a meticulous focus in determining whether job knowledge, skills, and abilities learned are of post-secondary rigor.

Faculty evaluators consider factors such as how the “on-the-job” experiences have been learned; if occupation expectations are reflective of post-secondary level learning; the key components of the occupation’s responsibilities and how they relate to competencies found in post-secondary curriculum; and the core related competencies and learning outcomes within the occupation field.

What about other corporate and government training?

ACE’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT®) was established in 1974 to connect workplace learning with colleges and universities by helping students gain access to academic credit for formal training taken outside traditional degree programs. The credit recommendations are published in the National Guide to College Credit for Workforce Training and the Guide to Educational Credit by Examination (www.acenet.edu/nationalguide) ACE Registry transcripts for courses and examinations completed under these programs are available from ACE CREDIT® programs. For more information, please contact:

ACE College Credit Recommendation Service
Toll-free: (866) 205-6267
Email: credit@acenet.edu

What are some quick resources?

For more on military transcripts, the Military Guide, Transfer Guide or the evaluation of courses and occupations by ACE, please contact: 

Military Programs
American Council on Education
One Dupont Circle NW, Suite 250
Washington, DC 20036-1193
Toll-Free: 866-205-6267
Email:  militaryed@acenet.edu
Website: www.acenet.edu/militaryprograms/


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