Tuesday, May 29, 2007

College for veterans

Inside Higher Education has an article about an academic advising program for wounded veterans. Sounds like a great service. But too bad it's limited to severely wounded, so far they've only helped about 100 vets.

The idea is that the wounded are released from active service and cut off from military resources about academic advising.
“This allows us to fill a gap,” Selbe said. “The Department of Defense, they invest heavily in promoting the value of higher education, and they put a like investment in putting in the resources to ensure access and success in quality higher education programs. The participation is so high that a service member doesn’t need to look far to find someone who can provide them with advice and counsel and the like.


“But once they leave active duty, they lose the convenience and the access to those sorts of advisers.”

That's all fine and good, but it presumes that the resources that the military academic advising is competent. My experience was that it's not.

I knew nothing about college when I was in the service. My mother's family had some college grads, her dad had been an MD, but she was a German war bride, her family was kind of disrupted, and I didn't really know any of her family. My dad's family just didn't have many college grads. His younger brother had graduated from college (he got a math degree from Texas Tech and went in the Air Force), but that was about it as far as the close family. My dad was something of an anti-intellectual, pretty much your classic redneck about those beatnik queers and professional students.

When I was a baby he'd had a seismograph business that did pretty well. But he got hurt and couldn't work the rigs any more, so he sold out to his partner and moved back to Austin, working as a security guard at the University of Texas campus for a while. I think he had a lot of resentment and anger about his injury that ended up directed at students. When he'd gotten out of the Army he'd had a chance to go to college on the GI Bill, but choose the seismograph business instead because it seemed to offer much more opportunity. He made a lot of money for a while, but by the time he got hurt he had two kids and going to college just wasn't going to work out for him.

I was a smart kid, but an often disruptive student so none of my teachers or school administrators ever did much to try to steer me to college. In fact, some of them went out of their way to steer me away from college prep work. I didn't even take an SAT or ACT exam when I was in high school.

When I went in the Navy I stood a few graveyard quarterdeck watches with a young officer who'd gone through the Navy NESEP program, that's a program where the Navy sends an enlisted man to college then gives him an OCS commission when he graduates. He gets payed E5 pay plus tuition while in college a pretty good deal. He talked to me some about college during those midnight to 4 am watches.

The Navy did have some college correspondence courses available through schools like the University of Maryland and my fellow watch stander suggested I talk to the ships education officer for advice about what courses to take.

That's where the official Defense Department advising for potential college students falls through the cracks. The Navy had on official "Education Officer" on each ship. He was a junior officer appointed by the Captain, it was just part-time job, not part of his regular duties. Based on my experience as a sailor on a destroyer, and later in life as a college teacher teaching on a couple of different ammunition supply ships (AE's), not very many Education Officers take the assignment seriously.

I went to our Education Officer for advise about what course to take. In my first 7 months of active duty (6 months of it in Vietnam) I'd completed Navy correspondence courses for Radioman, Personellman, and Petty Officer (3&2 for all those for those of you familiar with Navy courses). I'd been trying to get out of the deck force and finally gave up when I realized that I'd offended the XO so much that I was never going to get out of the deck force and would never be promoted (I'd told him that just because he wanted to suck LBJ's dick didn't mean I wanted to -- I wasn't the brightest 18 y.o sailor in the Navy).

Anyway, having never taken and SAT or ACT, there were no college placement exams to guide the advisor in placement, but I did have the military ARI/GCT scores which the Navy used in general placement. I think those scores were 133, which is pretty high, high enough to have qualified for any program the Navy offered, from OCS to crypto school. So, based on what I know now, I'd think anybody with a basic understanding of college placement would have guessed that I'd be able to place out of some of the first year courses, like composition and math.

Not this clown. Since I didn't have any thoughts about what I might major in he suggested I just take a composition course since wherever I went and whatever I majored in I'd have to take Freshman English. So that's what I did.

Of course the credit didn't transfer when I later went to college, because I placed out of the 1st semester English comp just based on ACT scores. What the lazy, incompetent boob should have steered me to was something like intro to sociology or physics, or some other topic specific course. Something that might not always be required for some degree programs, but something that always would be given credit for. Any degree program would have accepted transfer credit in those subjects, but that turned out to not be true for freshman composition.

Someday I'll tell y'all about that run in with the XO that left me with pretty much no chance to succeed in the Navy. He was new to the ship at the time and I don't think he realized that we were actually in a combat zone.

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