December 4, 2016

Enrollment down on military campuses

A revamp on rules for colleges offering military programs led to a decline in military enrollments at Webster, causing some military-affiliated campuses to close.

At a meeting of the Faculty Assembly in January, Webster President Elizabeth Stroble said some of the incentives once provided by the military were not being offered anymore. She said the military enrollment lost this way was unlikely to recover.

“Webster has been proud of its military association for over forty-years, so it’s like a little slice (of us) being cut away,” said Brig. Gen. Mike Callan, USAF (Ret.), Webster’s Special Assistant to the Provost for Military Affairs & Director at Scott Air Force Base.

Callan said new marketing restrictions for colleges by the Department of Defense (DoD), followed by a de-emphasis on graduate degrees in some branches, like the Air Force, has produced a declining military population throughout the Webster extended-campus system.

The Office of Military Affairs manages programs and services to military-affiliated students. The office is led by Callan, a 30-year career Air Force officer.

“Now, there is a smaller segment of the military population that can be woven into the fabric of what Webster is supposed to be,” Callan said.

When Callan took his post in 2012, Webster had campus extensions on 39 military installations throughout the U.S. By the end of 2015, five of those had closed: Moody AFB, Ga., Whiteman AFB, Mo., Fairchild AFB, Wash., Edwards AFB, Calif., and Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.

The Office of Academic Affairs conducted a site review last June which affected these campuses.

“From that, it was very clear that these five were not only seeing declined enrollment, but there was no prospect for improvement, so the administration decided to close them down with a 180-day notification,” Callan said.

In 2012, the DoD, as part of a response to congressional concerns, instituted a program requiring private and for-profit colleges to sign-off on a set of criteria that forms the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

By agreeing, a school that wants to qualify for payments of a student’s tuition assistance (TA) benefit must agree to be party to the Military Voluntary Education Review (MVER) – an oversight protocol. The system was designed to scrutinize the quality of programs for which public funds are disbursed through the TA benefit.

Documents published by the Council of College and Military Education in 2011 stated the MOU would not grant colleges the access to military installations they need in order to market to on-base personnel.

“That put the brakes on the Wild-Wild West of marketing availability and, of course, money being thrown around at job fairs, open houses and unrestricted access to military installations and as a result, Webster, like all of the military affiliated schools – including for-profits – has seen a declining military population,” Callan said.

Unrelated to the marketing restrictions imposed by the MOU, the Air Force has recently overhauled the way it evaluates candidates eligible for promotions.

Callan said in the past, the incentive for junior Air Force officers and captains to pursue a graduate degree was part of the whole-person-concept the Air Force was promoting; the institution wanted them to get an advanced degree.

Last June, the Air Force Times reported the new rules, at least in the Air Force, de-emphasize extracurricular activities – like pursuing college degrees – in favor of performance-based criteria.

For the past year-and-a-half, Callan said, officers applying for promotion in the Air Force to the rank of Major or Lt. Colonel have had their degrees masked, or made unavailable to the promotions board. Previously, when a captain came before the board, their personnel record would tell Callan whether or not the candidate had an advanced degree.

“Air Force chiefs-of-staff want to put the emphasis back on-the-job. As a result, we have a declining officer population since there is no longer an appetite for our graduate degrees,” Callan said.

When military enrollments decline, Callan said that the university becomes less diverse and student leadership suffers.

“When student forums come together, what better student to be on that panel than a military student who prides themselves on advancing in leadership?” Callan said.

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