Before Central Virginia Community College classes were set to start this fall Marine Zachary Farrell stopped by the school’s Veterans Resource Center to go over his military transcript.

The move, which introduced him to the Credits2Careers program and saved him from taking an unnecessary class, is one CVCC is hopes it can get more veterans to make.

The Virginia Community College System’s Credits2Careers program allows active duty or veteran students to submit their military transcript for an unofficial credit evaluation, an estimate of the number of credits that can be transferred and how those credits apply to VCCS schools to help students choose which community college is right for them.

“I think [Credits2Careers has] made them much more aware of the fact that they have college credit, and they’re always surprised … They would say, ‘I never took anything, I don’t have any college credit.’ I would say, ‘Honestly, you do,’” said Tina Murphy, veterans coordinator for the Veterans Resource Center at CVCC. “For them, it’s the thrill of not having to do more classes. That’s been really the neat aspect that they realize they really did do more than just military service; they were earning college credit at the same time.”

Murphy said the military transcript provides a breakdown of everything the student did while serving and how much credit they’ve received. The program, which is unique to Virginia’s community colleges, was introduced in the fall of 2017. As of Veterans Day of this year, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications for VCCS Jeffrey Kraus, said of the more than 20,000 military related students the system serves, more than 4,000 students have created accounts in the program.

Kraus said on average, the program has saved students 17 to 20 credits, which equates to about $3,000 in tuition and fees.

Between 160 and 180 of CVCC’smilitary students are using the education benefits they receive, and CVCC has about 350 veterans on campus, Murphy said.

Murphy said Veteran Affairs requires students to submit their transcripts by the end of their second semester or their benefits are stopped.

Most military students at CVCC, like Farrell and former CVCC student Michael Pollard, obtain at least a minimum of five credits for physical education and health from their time in the service.

During his time in the Marines, Farrell provided humanitarian efforts after the earthquakes that devastated Haiti in 2010, and his first combat deployment was in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2011. He returned from Afghanistan in October of 2011 but was sent back in March of 2012.

When Farrell approached Murphy with his military transcript, he said he didn’t know he could receive college credit for his service.

“In the beginning, I was going to do a health class. I already had it scheduled, but then I got my military transcripts, and it worked out so I didn’t have to take that health class. I was able to pick up a culinary class to get on the ball and graduate on time,” said Farrell who now wants to pursue his passion for cooking.

Murphy said because some students don’t pursue a career in the field they were in while in the military, the student might not have that many credits transferred.

“It really depends on what their plans are for the future as to whether or not what they did in the military will translate to the degree. So sometimes as great as a tool [the program] is, it doesn’t serve a lot of purpose,” Murphy said.

Murphy said if a student continues to pursue a career in the same field from their time in the military, students could possibly transfer between 15 and 30 credits depending on the program.

Murphy said she sees two sets of military students at CVCC: “the ones who are here to get it done and get out and the others who are looking long term” and choose a career path that’s different than their service.  

Pollard, 34, joined the Air Force in March of 2009 and medically retired after almost seven years, serving as a medical laboratory technician in Alaska.

As a graduate of Brookville High School in 2003, Pollard decided to return to the Lynchburg area and enroll in CVCC for the school’s welding program.

“My aunt used to be an assistant dean [at CVCC], and she thinks it’s a great place for people to go to get a good start. When I left the military, I wasn’t in the greatest of shape, and it was a good way to get me back out into society,” Pollard said.

Pollard said he received credits for physical education, health and leadership, and the program “made graduating a little easier, a little quicker.” He started at CVCC in 2016 and finished last spring.

Murphy said the time it takes to complete a degree at CVCC varies depending on the amount of credits transferred, if students take summer courses and whether a student chooses to stick with the career field they had while serving or pursue a different career.

“I think by offering this service — and we were one of the schools that really pushed this out — they realized that we are really trying to do what we can to get them through the system or through their education as quickly as possible that way they’re not wasting their time or benefits,” Murphy said.

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Liz Ramos covers K-12 education for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5532.

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