Big news came out of the United States Army last month, as it announced Army University, a new initiative that has the potential to impact all colleges that enroll active duty, reserve, and National Guard soldiers, as well as Army veterans.

Background

The Army spends $275-$300 million on Tuition Assistance (TA) annually, with more than 115,000 soldiers drawing funds from the program. Hundreds of colleges participate in the Army’s TA program, and many award academic credit for military education courses that the American Council on Education has approved for college credit.

While details of the new Army University (AU) are evolving (see the Army’s White Paper), it’s clear that AU will not be a brick-and-mortar institution. Rather, its goal is to consolidate the instruction offered at over 70 Army schools and training facilities and serve Army ROTC cadets to general officers. In doing so, AU will increase academic rigor and ultimately award more credits that are transferable to civilian colleges.

AU will be modeled after a regionally accredited civilian university and lead by senior army officers and civilian academics. It will issue universal transcripts and award credentials, including undergraduate and graduate degrees. Currently, only a small number of Army schools offer regionally accredited degrees, such as associate and master’s degrees.

We recently spoke with Army Colonel Michael Harlan, the new Vice President for learning systems at AU. According to Harlan, the Army is “rethinking the way it prepares soldiers to meet [its] new mission in the future.” By bringing the curriculum under one roof, Harlan explained, the Army “hopes, among many outcomes, to enhance critical-thinking skills and problem solving for its future soldiers.”

AU is also working on a universal transcript. The current military transcript is mostly limited to military and civilian courses taken while serving in uniform. The new AU universal transcript, meanwhile, will include college courses taken prior to joining the Army, as well as competencies acquired on the job. This will tie these competencies more closely to academic credit and civilian employment opportunities.

Friend or Foe?

What does AU mean for your institution? Is it a new partnership opportunity or a new competitor? Only time will tell, but it behooves institutions that currently enroll soldiers through TA to learn more about the initiative.

For colleges interested in learning more, the Army will host an Army University Educational Symposium on December 2-3, 2015 at Fort Leavenworth (KS). This symposium will introduce civilian academic institutions to AU and begin an exchange of ideas with military professional educators.

Recommendations

Colleges interested in enrolling and graduating soldiers through TA should consider the following:

  • Saying you are “military friendly” is not enough. Soldiers must see that your community is committed to helping service members succeed. Build a support network that engages faculty, staff, and students, such as a faculty-staff standing committee or a veteran student club and lounge. Move from “military-friendly” to “military-centered” by questioning every policy, procedure, and practice that may impact a soldier, both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Don’t try to boil the ocean. The Army offers over 150 different jobs or military occupational specialties (MOS). You can’t be all things to all soldiers. Match a handful of your degree offerings (and your marketing dollars) to a specific Army MOS. For example, promote your RN-BSN program to Army nurses or your criminal justice program to Army MPs.
  • Understand the importance of “got your 6,”military speak for looking out for and trusting fellow soldiers. Soldiers not only talk to each other, but they also trust the opinions of their battle buddies. Soldiers praising your institution and programs is a critical influence on other soldiers and should be highlighted on your website and social media.
  • Develop a three-year strategic plan that includes financials. Begin by crafting a manageable, measureable plan. Overcommunicate its vision and goals with all stakeholders. Recognize and reward colleagues for having a meaningful impact with soldier students.
  • Leverage tactics both “from the air and from the ground.” Your digital marketing spend should complement your face-to-face marketing strategy and initiatives. For example, geo-target Army nurses attending the nursing school at Fort Sam Houston (TX) with a digital marketing campaign leading up to a local meet-and-greet reception.

Understand that there is no shortage of colleges devoting resources to recruit and enroll soldiers. If you are going to successfully compete in this environment, you must rally your troops on campus to ensure a seamless pathway for soldiers to succeed. This requires both the way and the will.

Eduventures can help your institution with the way. It’s up to your senior management to generate the will.

Dr. Kenneth Hartman, Eduventures Vice President and Senior Fellow, is a former United States Army officer and former president of Drexel University Online.