As part of their ongoing commitment to promoting academic success among enlisted military members, Fort Hays State University (FHSU) became a partner school in the Community College of the Air Force’s (CCAF) General Education Mobile (GEM) program.
After spending time in the service and earning credits through training, Air Force members working towards earning their Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree must also complete general education requirements such as English, science, math and humanities.
The GEM program approves those courses at FHSU for individuals to finish their associate degree. In addition to an AAS degree, the courses can also go towards earning a bachelor’s degree from FHSU.
“We don’t have to be a GEM school for Air Force students to take general education courses with us, but it’s just an extra step that we can take to ensure that our courses will transfer back to the Community College of the Air Force,” said Kelsi Broadway, assistant director of the Transfer and Military Center at FHSU.
To be eligible for the program, institutions must be a Department of Defense Memorandum of Understanding partner to ensure students were eligible for tuition assistance.
The courses are set up through an online platform to offer more flexible options for students.
Broadway said in some instances, military students have enrolled at FHSU after transferring from five different schools. However, this program allows those students to “utilize the credits they have.”
“We are hoping that we can help streamline their educational journey so that they are not wasting a lot of time or unnecessary money on college credits that might not advance them to their end goal,” she added.
The GEM program is one of many recent initiatives FHSU has taken to support the military-affiliated community.
“Fort Hays has really made a conscious, purposeful decision to support the military population,” said Dr. Seth Kastle, director of military program innovation and assistant professor at FHSU. “And that means from an initial inquiry through graduation and employment, we have the right people on the bus and they are in the right seats.”
For example, FHSU’s Associate of Applied Science in Technology and Leadership degree is a 60-hour program. However, military students can transfer up to 36 hours of training to their degree program.
In addition to earning an associate degree, students also earn a certificate in leadership studies over the course of one year.
Since its establishment two years ago, the program has graduated six students while 30 are currently enrolled.
“We have lots of people who are still serving in the military, our veterans and working,” said Kastle. “They have full time jobs to support their families. So, they are not doing it full time. They are doing it by taking one or two classes at a time.”
FHSU has memorandums of understanding for the Army and Air Force and plans to also partner with the Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard.
Last summer, FHSU established the Transfer and Military Center. Staffed with all former military members, the Center provides students with academic advising, assistance with the transfer process and access to the school’s other resources such as online tutoring and mentoring.
One challenge faced by military-affiliated students is the cost of college.
For example, tuition assistance only covers $250 per credit hour for active-duty graduate students, FHSU reported. However, the full cost of tuition is not always covered. Therefore, the university established the Tuition Assistance Graduation Gap scholarship to fund additional out-of-pocket costs.
On the other hand, there is often frustration around transferring military training and other work experience to college credit, according to Kastle.
To solve this issue, FHSU partnered with the Kansas Board of Regents and the Lumina Foundation to create the Military Credentialing and Advancement Initiative. Through partnerships with community colleges, service members are provided with multiple pathway options to credentials that can be outside of their job in the service.
“A typical service member has done a lot of training and a lot of learning,” said Kastle. “While that does not necessarily fit the parameters of a traditional collegiate classroom, it does not mean that it is not valuable, right? So just because someone graduated from high school and hasn’t went to college for 10 years does not mean that they haven’t been growing and expanding their knowledge as a person.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].