MY six years in the Marine Corps taught me the importance of learning the basics. When the Marines teach a young recruit to shoot, they don’t skip parts of the training. Whether you have never touched a gun in your life or grew up hunting every weekend, the Marines drill you in how to steady your sights, master your breathing and control recoil. Every recruit is taught and then tested in the fundamentals of marksmanship before he or she advances in basic training.
College education shouldn’t be any different.
But thanks to a misguided effort to recognize service members’ military experience through awarding them college credit, many veterans are being allowed to skip basic lessons when they begin higher education. The result is an education that sells short the veterans who worked so hard to earn it.
More than a million veterans have flooded into America’s college classrooms thanks to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. To help prevent them from having to start from scratch, the American Council on Education, an organization representing more than 1,700 colleges and universities, has developed a system that evaluates veterans’ military experience and makes recommendations to colleges to grant these student-veterans transfer credit for their training. The A.C.E. is a central player in education policy in the United States.
The transition from military service to the college classroom is often difficult, and the desire to give veterans a helping hand is understandable. But in the rush to recognize the lessons that people learn during military service, the A.C.E. has gone too far, often overstating the relevance of military training to a college curriculum in a way that does disservice to both the veterans in the classroom and to the employers who hope to hire them after they graduate. These policies have also helped predatory for-profit colleges exploit veterans and their families.
Many of the A.C.E.’s transfer credit recommendations strain credulity. For example, according to the A.C.E., Marine Corps basic training is the equivalent of eight college credits: two in “basic martial arts (P.E.),” two in “basic military science,” three in “land navigation/tactical operations” and one in “orienteering/adventure.” My experience in boot camp at age 19 was quite an adventure, but what I learned there bore little resemblance to anything taught in a college classroom.