Everyone in the U.S. Army, from top officers to new recruits, gets some kind of training. Soon, many of those trainees will also be in college. Sort of.
They will be in Army University: a soon-to-begin restructuring of the Army’s educational system that will be modeled after traditional civilian universities. The idea is to consolidate the Army’s many educational and training programs, to make them more flexible and adaptable, and to help students get more college credit for their military experience.
A handful of Army institutions, like the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Army War College, already operate as universities and offer accredited degrees. The vast majority of the army's training programs, however -- some 70 different schools that train everyone from cadets to engineers to officers and truck drivers -- are mostly unaccredited and unconnected.
Those programs operate under the purview of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, but “a lot of them are individually owned and operated” by different bodies within the Army, said Col. Michael Harlan, the new vice president for learning systems at Army University. That means innovation may spread slowly or not at all across the schools, and different programs often overlap inefficiently. “If 20 programs use the same curriculum, there could be 20 different people updating it,” he said.
Army University will bring them all under one umbrella. “Really what we will look at is how can we improve the rigor and abilities that are taught to our soldiers,” Harlan said. “We’re not reducing the schools. We’re just looking for way to run them more efficiently.”
How precisely all that will work remains to be seen. Army University is in a developmental “cost-benefit analysis” phase where Harlan and others internally outline and justify the program’s exact structure before submitting it for approval.
But, looking forward, the hope is this change will help address a longstanding problem in Army education. Less than a quarter of TRADOC classes have any kind of accreditation, and many soldiers or veterans find the credits on their military transcript rarely translate to usable credit at traditional civilian colleges.
The American Council on Education, higher education’s umbrella group, has for a long time evaluated Army training programs and provided credit recommendations for service members who complete them. But it’s still ultimately up to individual colleges to decide whether or not to accept them, which they often do not.
After Army University’s centralized structure is in place, the Army plans to create a universal transcript to augment the military’s existing transcript, the Joint Services Transcript. Rather than simply listing completed courses, the Universal Transcript would include more detailed information about the skills and experience service members accrue during their time in the army, and, Harlan said, present it so college registrars better understand how those skills might translate into college credit.
“In our point of view, it’s a good move,” said Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of veterans’ employment and education for the American Legion. “This helps them consolidate and create one language for all service members.”
Gonzalez and the American Legion have worked for a long time with ACE and the military to aid veterans entering college. His concern about the Army University strategy is that the consolidation and translation of experience on a transcript won’t be enough.
“It may be standardized, but that doesn’t mean institutions have to accept it,” said Gonzalez. So it's important that the Army be in touch with the civilian colleges, he said, who are the final arbiters of whether or not military credit gets accepted.
Harlan said the Army is communicating with universities “in a number of different states” to ensure the Universal Transcript provides the information they need to see, but he declined to say which ones or how many.
In addition to the transcript, though, they also plan to seek accreditation for many more TRADOC courses and programs and to figure out a way for service members to fulfill general education requirements alongside their standard training. But that’s a long way off, Harlan said, calling the idea “very, very nebulous” at this point. And it wouldn’t be a panacea, he said. “Are we going to get to the point where everybody walks out of the Army holding a degree? No, I don’t think we’ll ever get to that point.”