New UI panel to focus on making it easier for veterans to transfer credits

New UI panel to focus on making it easier for veterans to transfer credits

URBANA — A new University of Illinois committee will examine ways to make it easier for veterans to transfer academic credits to the UI and get credit for real-world experience in the military.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, said they have been working on the issue for several years, to improve access for veterans.

The UI agreed to form a committee headed by Cheryl Hanley-Maxwell, dean of the College of Applied Health Sciences, and Naval ROTC Commanding Officer Captain Anthony Corapi. The panel is to deliver recommendations by the end of the fall semester.

"We welcome this partnership with our state to explore ways to make an Illinois education more accessible to those who have served their country," Provost Andreas Cangellaris said in a release.

Rose credited Cangellaris for helping reach a consensus.

"We've been working for a long time on this issue," Rose said Wednesday, adding that both Hanley-Maxwell and Corapi seem to have veterans' best interests at heart. The College of Applied Health Sciences includes the Chez Center for Veterans in Higher Education.

"There's large bipartisan support for this, and I am really excited that the UI got the right people in the room," Rose said. "If it hadn't been those two, plus the provost, we'd probably still be pursuing the legislative route."

Rose introduced a bill in 2016 that would have required each public university and community college district to accept credit for certain military courses, if they're evaluated by the American Council on Education for the subject areas, semester hours and level of credit and if they're equivalent to what the institution of higher education offers.

Rose later joined forces with Sen. Antonio Munoz, D-Chicago, who introduced a bill creating the Educational Credit for Military Experience Act. It would have required every institution that receives state Monetary Award Program grant funds to adopt a policy on awarding academic credit for military training applicable to the student's degree requirements.

That bill unanimously passed the Senate but never made it out of the House rules committee. The UI agreed to do its own internal review in lieu of the proposed law.

But some veterans weren't satisfied with the results, Rose said.

In 2017, the General Assembly approved the Educational Credit for Military Experience Act, requiring public universities and community colleges to create a policy to award academic credits for corresponding military training.

The UI already accepts some military courses for credit, as well as classes that aren't a direct match to its curriculum if they show considerable breadth in communications, for example, or another area, said Kevin Pitts, vice provost for undergraduate education.

"Even if it doesn't map onto one of our courses, we have a mechanism by which students can still earn credit," he said.

The UI is also part of the Illinois Articulation Initiative, a statewide effort to help students transfer courses from community colleges to four-year institutions.

Legislators said the UI's policies are more restrictive than other state schools and some of the UI's Big Ten peers.

"Our other state universities have much more extensive policies on this already, and this will ensure that our veterans attending the U of I are treated fairly," Caulkins said in the release.

Rose said he has a constituent who was in the Air Force, and still serves in the reserves, who took a number of courses through the Air Force community college that weren't accepted by the UI.

Someone who has been a military instructor for 20 years in a particular field probably doesn't need to take an introductory class in that subject, he added.

The UI doesn't have a general policy giving students credit for real-life work experience, but it does have proficiency exams through which students can try to test out of courses, usually introductory-level, Pitts said. The system allows the campus to offer proficiency exams for any course, though it's rarely used for higher-level classes, he said.

"We will look at how that is employed and how people are using it — is it something we can take better advantage of?" he said.

Rose said Hanley-Maxwell and her staff have pulled together research on the issue, and Corapi has experience in the Pentagon, "dealing with large bureaucracies. I feel good that we've got the right group now to spearhead this and actually get something done," he said.

Pitts said the campus will continue to gather information over the summer about what other universities are doing, primarily in the Big Ten but also around Illinois. It will also review the UI's policies and procedures to see where there might be "gaps in our coverage. Are there some things that are particularly challenging for veterans?"

The issues facing veterans also apply to other older, nontraditional students who return to school in midcareer, Pitts said.

As the UI began these discussions, he said, "we could also see we're often guilty of thinking about 18-year-old high school graduates coming to college. We want make sure things are relevant to veterans and others."

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