So here I am sitting in the office of my business department counselor, discussing my degree path and time to completion.
I started college courses full-time during the Fall of 2011. As it stands right now, I’m not able to graduate until Spring of 2015. Based on total credits transferred from the military and the classes I’ve already taken, I currently have a grand total of 141 credits completed. Only three of my military credit hours transferred to my bachelors degree.
I remembered why my blood pressure spikes every time I sit in the counselor’s office.
I brush aside the gnawing feeling that I’m wasting my time with what I equate to grinding my face on the pavement in order to prove that I am capable of grinding my face on pavement.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard the variation on the following phrase: “Just knock out the degree. Employers only want to see that you have the determination to make it through the college system.”
Right. Determination… blood pressure rising again.
I’ve heard of this ‘determination’ thing. That’s sort of like when you volunteer to jump out of planes, and physically destroy your body for extended periods of time in order to prove your worth and become a member of a small team? This sounds intriguing. I would love to hear more. Are there any brochures or pamphlets I could read?
Fuck. Me. Running. I need to get my mind back to the counselors office. Need to focus.
So I have approximately 10 classes left that I need to take. She begins going through the list so I can determine which time slot and day would be the best to take.
She informs me that I will need to complete at least three credit hours of a foreign language.
I agree that taking a foreign language should be a requirement for any degree. It’s an excellent tool to have in your tool box, and learning how to learn another language is an even greater skill. Fortunately, I know all of this because I’ve been through language training
Now, for those who don’t know, all Special Forces soldiers are required to attend language and cultural training for their area of operations. I learned Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, while attending the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Classes began at 0900 and typically ran through 1630, minus lunch time. Classes were five times a day… Tagalog was a six month course. This comes out to roughly 845 hours of classroom time.
Apparently, my credits as transferred awarded me three credit hours for this training. Unfortunately, they were labeled as a “Military Undistributed Credit.” In other words, those credits didn’t mean shit in the eyes of the school, particularly for waiving a language requirement.
My blood pressure starts approaching David Banner-like levels.
I ask the counselor (who is genuinely trying to help me out), “Is there any way I can have that language requirement waived?” I keep my well-developed mask of indifference affixed to my face in an attempt to avoid showing a glimpse of the general-purpose rage that is building inside me.
She explains that I’ll need to get a transcript or course description and plead my case to the business department chair. Ok – another hoop to jump through. I move on.
She then comes to the required course titled “International Communications.” The class description reads as follows: “This course examines international communication, global business etiquette, and it teaches cultural sensitivity and awareness based on the study of the interfaces of language, culture, and communication.”
She reads this out loud just for my information, not knowing that with each word, the cynical part of my brain is doing a serious ‘ROFL,’ while the analytical part of my brain is calculating which objects in my immediate vicinity would break into the most pieces the quickest.
I let out a little chuckle. As she looks at me inquisitively, I calmly attempt to explain the nuances of the Army Special Forces job in 30 words or less, and attempt to convince her that the description she just read is nearly a word for word regurgitation of one component of the job I held in the military. She responds with a vacant stare, which seems to say, ‘Ok, what do you want me to do about it?’
I know she’s just doing her job and trying to help me. I completely understand that the average civilian has neither the understanding nor the inclination to appreciate (in the literal sense) what certain military jobs entail. I get that. This knowledge didn’t make my blood pressure go down, though.
“Same thing. You’ll need to get a course description and plead your case. But I can tell you, this class is important and it’s only taught in the Fall semester,” she tells me flatly. “It’s less likely that you’ll be able to get this one waived.”
“Alright.” I breathe calmly, keeping the adrenaline from spiking. “What else is there?”
Market research… recruiting doesn’t count apparently.
A business writing class… ugh. My heart.
A creative writing class… ugh. My uterus.
Awesome. Whatever. I went into autopilot and agreed with whatever else needed to be done. I thank her for her time and advice on how to get out of the classes I know I’ve already taken.
As I walk out of the office, I can’t help but think of all the other veterans who just got fed up with this sort of thing, only to walk away from school and never come back. There is a strong sense of despair that begins to take hold when you realize that what was once a major part of your life no longer has any tangible value, aside from the experience itself.
Here’s a message for our educators and employers in this country: You want to help our nations veterans? Maybe some of our training is actually more valuable than time spent in your classrooms. Maybe my entire military career, along with the 24 months I spent in training in addition to the seven years afterwards, should translate to more than 33 credit hours.
Here’s a direct message (from the heart) to the American Council on Education: Fuck you guys. Seriously. I don’t know if money is your motivation, or if you don’t think any military training is as strenuous as the college classroom, or if you simply don’t like the military. Whatever the case may be, your shit is broken and it needs to be fixed. I really hope someone from ACE actually reads this.
For all the folks out there who believe that the purpose of college should be to prove to employers that you have the determination necessary to graduate: If the only purpose of college education is to prove that someone is capable of dedication, there are far cheaper methods that don’t take four years and thousands of dollars to accomplish that task. The Latin root of the word education is ‘duco’, which means to lead or guide — not jump through a hoop like a trained dolphin.
I’m not sure how to best conclude this post, so I’ll try to keep it simple. There is plenty of anger in the veteran community, though most of us don’t know why or where it is actually directed. Often, the anger is turned inwards or onto those whom we love the most. I’ve been searching for the source of this anger for a while now, and I know I’ve identified at least a few. This is one of those sources.
We’re thanked for our service. We’re looked up to for our accomplishments. We’re praised for our sacrifices. But deep down, what we’re looking for the most is to be valued for our experiences and abilities.
When it’s assumed that the blood, sweat, and time we’ve already spent in pursuit of a certain skill or knowledge is not on par with time spent by someone sitting in an air conditioned classroom learning the same skill, the implied lesson is that our blood and sweat is less valuable.
When we’re told that we just need to play the game to earn a piece of paper in order for employers to value our life experience, the implied lesson is that a piece of paper is more valuable than volunteering to miss out on the birth of our children, seeing our brothers killed in foreign lands, or having our bodies broken.
I recognize the value of a college education. I enjoy the process of learning immensely. But I also value life experience. Most importantly, I know without a doubt that life experience is infinitely more valuable than skills learned in the classroom. I only wish that certain civilians in positions of power believed this as well.
UPDATE: It turns out that the military has recently made available a new valuation system to recommend credits for military training. The Joint Service Transcript website is available here: www.JST.DODED.mil. I did a walk-through of using it on our Transition Heroes website.
This would’ve been nice to know a while ago and I hope it helps me a bit in regards to giving me more credit hours in college. That said, my time in the SFQC is valued at 28 credit hours. SERE school is worth a whopping one credit hour for “Survival Skills/Outdoor Pursuits.” Cynical mind doing a ‘ROFL’ again.
I personally value SERE school as worth an infinite amount of credit hours. I got more in that month than I could have possibly received from any classroom in a lifetime, but then again, what the hell do I know?
(Featured Image Courtesy: Wake Forest University)