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Prior learning programs at Cleveland State going strong

Veterans, non-traditional students comprise majority of students using prior learning options

November 7, 2013

By Jordan Gonzalez

Bob Shields, a 30-year veteran in the Coast Guard and the coordinator of the Veteran Student Success Program at Cleveland State University, remembers his post-boot camp training in the Coast Guard. He decided to focus on electronics, where he received over seven months of specialty training, 40 hours a week, plus homework. After that he was sent to the field for a year, then came back for an additional five weeks (200 hours) of training.

Post-boot camp military training is extensive, detailed and thorough, Shields said. New recruits choose a focus and begin special training, known as A-school, technical school and other names contingent on the branch of the military. Depending on the specialty and the branch, they can receive months or years of full-time training.

“Basically the specialty training that our enlisted people receive is college level,” said Shields. “I don’t think a lot of enlisted people would quite think of it that way, but it is.”

Because of the depth of training they receive, service members are often able to receive prior learning credits, said Shields. According to several Cleveland State officials, prior learning has been embraced by many departments and faculty advisors at the university. Currently students can obtain prior learning credits for a couple of degree programs by having past military experience or via the Assessment and Accreditation of Prior Learning Experience program (AAPLE), a portfolio program.

Cleveland State student and Navy veteran Kaci Kizziar said her training was particularly intense, spanning a total of one and a half years. She specialized in the cryptologic technician interpretive program in Monterrey, Calif., where she trained to be an Arabic linguist.

“It was Monday thru Friday, 8 a.m. till 3 p.m., take a break, come back in the evening,” Kizziar said. “It was just Arabic every day, all day, and then homework.”

Kizziar is now majoring in French and minoring in Arabic (Arabic isn’t available as a major at CSU), and she wants to be a linguist.
Due to the nature of the job she was training for, she said her training was longer than the average serviceperson. But in the armed forces, Shields said the same standard of detailed training goes in for even seemingly non-complex jobs such as the Coast Guard cleaning up an oil spill.

“That’s intense stuff,” said Shields. “If I send a coastguardsman to clean up a spill, they have to understand some chemistry, what material is out there and what to expect.”

A military background in logistics is another example of college-level military training that often translates smoothly into Cleveland State credits. Dr. Oya Tukel, chair and professor of the department of Operations and Supply Chain Management (OSM) (the academic description for logistics), said she and Shields worked together to create a mini-mechanism to help veterans with logistics training obtain credits for their training. She was inspired by a news report during in 2010 about how many veterans from the War on Terror were coming home, and contacted Shields.

Shields did a study to find out what kind of experience would correspond to Cleveland State credits in the OSM program and found out that qualified veterans can get up to eight credit hours, the equivalent of two or three classes.

The military has an extremely efficient grasp on logistics, Tukel said, noting how generals and service members often speak at business conferences on the topic, and companies like Fed-Ex, DHL and UPS have borrowed methodologies from the military.

“[The military] needs for example, a certain type of battery to operate their communication systems, so you have to make sure that it arrives there on time, and the right product is there, and you can’t make a mistake, the stakes are so high and such a high risk,” Tukel said.

Logistics is a fast-growing profession, according to Tukel, because the globalization of markets has created a demand saving cost and expanding efficiency.

Most veterans will receive some general education credits, if even just the physical education requirement. But it is not guaranteed for anyone, said Shields, especially when their specialized training doesn’t fit with any degree program at Cleveland State or they choose a program that is very different than their training.

“If I were to come here today with my electronics background, I would probably get something for my background in electronics, but as a bio major it doesn’t get me any closer to my BS,” Shields said.
“It has to be a legitimate match, and the university is right to insist on that.”

The process for reviewing and accepting prior learning credits varies according to the student, program and type of prior learning. With the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, which give students the chance to test out of certain general education classes, they are already accepted by Cleveland State, Neal said. As long as the student passes the test, there usually aren’t any other complications.

For reviewing military experience, it depends on the student, said Neal. When veterans apply, most will submit their military transcripts, which will be reviewed by the registrar’s to see if they fit the standards of the American Council on Education (ACE). ACE evaluates the student’s experience and creates an ACE transcript.
ACE tends rather formulaic in their evaluations, Neal said. If a student’s advisor thinks they could get more credit, the registrar’s office will have Shields and the Veteran’s Affairs Office check it out and adjust accordingly.

One of the long-standing prior learning options for Cleveland State students is the College of Urban Affair’s portfolio program, Assessment and Accreditation of Prior Learning Experience (AAPLE).
If a student has significant work experience, usually 5-10 years, in a field related to courses or programs in the College of Urban Affairs, they can pursue the program.

The portfolio can be done to up to 24 credit hours, at $75 per credit hour and consists of an autobiographical essay, competency statements and a narrative description of their previous work.
For students who are self-motivated and need a flexible schedule, the program often works great for them, said Rachel Singer, Assistant Director of Student Services at the College of Urban Affairs.

“I have seen this be the way that a lot of non-traditional students finish their degrees – two full-time semesters is significant time savings,” Singer said. “This has facilitated degree completion for a number of students who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to or wouldn’t have been interested in doing it.”

The portfolio programs, as well as other prior learning options, are not for all students and majors, Singer said. All students enrolled are non-traditional in some sense, since at least five years of professional experience are required. Furthermore some majors, such as biology, would never work because the style of learning is fundamentally unable to fit the mold of prior learning.

But Shields thinks there should be some more options yet. He’s currently working on getting some nursing/health science credits waved for veterans with substantial medical training, as well a more in-depth look into cultural assimilation.

Military personnel almost always go oversees in a foreign country, and during their stay (often a year or more) they are forced to learn the culture and often the language.

“Frankly I think it’s hard to duplicate that attending lectures three hours a week for 15 weeks,” Shields said.