E-to-O: Enlisted Commissioning Programs & the Problem with Credits

To complete my Public Policy master’s degree, I chose to develop a policy analysis aimed at improving enlisted commissioning opportunities at my university. The Army’s version of these programs is Green to Gold. (In the Navy, it’s STA-21, MECEP in the Marine Corps, and the Air Force has a few programs under the enlisted commissioning umbrella.)

The general problem is that my school doesn’t support prospective enlisted-to-officer candidates very well, though they want to—that’s where I come in. I sent out a survey just this week to several university admissions offices and various ROTC programs (of all services) to ascertain trends and capture best practices. Although the work is far from over, a concerning trend is already clear: many troops don’t have credits for core college courses.

As one survey respondent wrote, he has some troops thinking “their JST [Joint Services Transcript] of 11,000 credits will actually translate into a degree… they are not bringing any traditional post-secondary [credits].”

Another representative from an Army ROTC program concurred: “Many students only have JST credit not applicable to their degree program.”

Still another points out: “Most applicants have had college courses but not the ones we are looking for for the program they want.”

The lesson? Without basic college courses under their belts (like freshman math, english, and science), most active duty service members who wish to pursue enlisted commissioning programs will be unsuccessful as transfer admissions with JST credits alone.

Family pins 2nd lieutenant at ROTC commissioning ceremony
“U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Stephen Smallwood’s wife and children pin his new rank onto his uniform during the Clemson University Reserve Officer Training Corps commissioning ceremony Dec. 17, 2014. Smallwood was an experienced sergeant first class and Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment before becoming a student and ROTC cadet at Clemson. He will be an aviation officer at Fort Rucker, Ala., after graduation.” (Photo by Sgt. Ken Scar via Wikimedia Commons)

One simple solution might be to admit those without credits as freshman admissions. However, besides the obvious problem that not all service members are eligible or can commit to four full years of college (not to mention the budgetary concerns from the DoD perspective), another significant problem arises: applicants’ high school records are generally noncompetitive.

I am not quite ready to develop policy alternatives (or “courses of action” if you prefer the MDMP terminology), and, even if I was, my “client” is the university, not the military. Here, however, I want to consider some potential solutions from the military leader perspective:

  1. Identify those troops in your organization who even just might want to pursue an enlisted commissioning opportunity. Counsel them about the challenges noted above and guide them to success.
  2. Encourage troops to take core courses that are clearly and directly transferable to other universities.
  3. Encourage troops interested in E-to-O programs to contact university admissions offices and ROTC recruiting personnel very early in the process—those folks can guide the service member in the right direction and make him or her aware of any institutional peculiarities.
  4. Learn who your academic rock stars are. As one respondent wrote, “Qualified students with sufficient credit tend to have very few issues.”
  5. Don’t let “starting from scratch” discourage a good candidate. If a troop shows interest in the program and has the heart to succeed (but not the academic transcript), pass along the advise of one survey respondent: “Green to Gold is a realistic goal…. Never surrender — and never back down.”

What advise do you have? How do you help to prepare those in your organization who want to “cross over to the dark side?” Feel free to share your best practices in the comments or on social media.

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5 thoughts on “E-to-O: Enlisted Commissioning Programs & the Problem with Credits”

  1. Greetings,
    My recommendations from a personal perspective. This is what I found to work after being active duty enlisted, Reserve enlisted, AGR enlisted, and finally Reserve officer. My commissioning source was Direct Commission.

    1. CLEP as many classes as possible.
    2. Leave active duty and go into Reserve. You will have so much more time to focus on school. Utilize the post-9/11 GI Bill. Or, become a cadet.

    I found it harder to go enlisted to officer in the active Army (even with college experience prior to enlisting). Going to college is simply not a focus or even the mission for most active Army leadership. So, it was hard to find support. In contrast, about 75℅ of the enlisted Soldiers in my current Reserve unit have completed or are currently enrolled in college. This doesn’t necessarily mean the enlisted Soldiers have aspirations to become officers. But, it does mean there’s an civilian education difference when comparing active and Reserve enlisted.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Greetings Johnathon,

    I read your post with interest and would like to offer you a few comments to help frame your efforts to better individuals and the Services as whole in attracting and retaining Service members.

    I apologize in advance if my comments seem blunt, but I want to offer you an alternative frame of reference. Based on your post, you are a candidate in master’s program in Public Policy and your academic work “is focused on a policy analysis aimed at improving enlisted commissioning opportunities at my university”. Furthermore, you note (one of) the problem[s] appears to be in an individual’s ability to transfer credits. Asking your fellow company grade officers for their “best [leadership]” practices” is the wrong approach for a policy issue.

    BLUF – if current military personnel policies provide Service members with sufficient opportunities to earn transferable [core] college level credits, then what policies (and recommended programs can change that outcome. You should be focused on the DoD personnel policy enterprise and not orderly room and below level leadership. In addition, I would think this policy problem has greater implications beyond “my university”.

    As a graduate student of public policy, you should be taking, if you have not all ready, an institutional policy approach to the problem you identified on transferrable credits. You can do this by examining current Service and OSD policies and programs on voluntary education (VOL ED) and other DoD programs that may transfer Service training and skills into transferable credits. Are they working, why and or why not? Is there a patchwork of military schools that may also award college credits accepted by some schools and not others – if so what policies, to include any DoD partnerships with accredited colleges can be put in place to improve the practice? With regards to VOL ED, are the policies in place to require education counselors to educate those using TA and in-service GI bill benefits to spend their benefit wisely rather than on schools and courses with credits that may not transfer?

    It is clear from your posts, you are young leader who believes you have two duties 1) accomplish the mission and 2) care for your troops (and families) and that you can’t 1 without 2. While you should never lose that view and passion, you also need to be thinking about issues from a wider program and policy perspective as well in preparation for greater levels of service.

    I wish you nothing but success in your studies and military career. In the event you wish to continue this conversation, I would be happy to share additional contact information with you.

    Best regards,

    Andy Cohen

    By way of background I am a retired Army Colonel. After the Army I spent nine years as a Deputy Director and CFO of large non-profit and after retiring a second time from there; I am currently working in OSD Personnel and Readiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sir,
      Thanks for taking the time to both read and respond to my piece with critical and helpful comments. I should clarify that, by design, our capstone policy projects are client-driven, and my client is my university’s admissions office. That in mind, I must develop policy alternatives that are actionable from that perspective, not the wider perspectives of military services, the DoD, or other universities. My survey to other schools is an attempt to capture best practices, and comments gleaned from responses inspired this post separate from my policy analysis.

      Aside from my analysis, however, my post does not look to inform my policy analysis but to instead address a piece of the issue from a junior leader perspective and to inspire thought or discussion among those junior leaders who might have troops interested in these enlisted commissioning programs.

      As you have pointed out, there is much to be explored, and I am absolutely aware of the “greater implications beyond ‘my university.'” It is an avenue worth exploring.

      Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jonathan,

    As a naval officer, I have sat many STA-21 boards and interviews, reviewing records of prospective candidates. I would say your advice to your fellow officers is correct.

    Many young enlisted sailors/soldiers pursue a degree for the degrees sake. Keep in mind (generalizing) many come from a background without a parent who went to college or have already been unsuccessful in college before joining the service. They were recruited with a pitch that military training, in an of itself can lead to at least an AA without additional academic work and with just a little more work, they can easily earn a BA. Base college offices tell them the same thing and often a “for profit” college will be the quickest way for them to get a degree. At least for the Navy, any degree counts toward advancement, even in underwater basket weaving.

    STA-21 doesn’t work the same way. When I sat boards, what I was taught by senior officers is that the Navy is betting a three-year college scholarship on a student who must take college level chemistry and calculus as part of the program. Traditionally, those who fail out do so in these classes. Therefore, if a student had already taken those two classes for credit, their academic credibility was proven and their application became a slam dunk, assuming their recommendations were good.

    Through my command tour, when I counseled sailors looking to become officers, the first thing I did was look at their transcript. My track record was 95% in telling them ahead of time whether they would make the board or not. For those who didn’t, my advice was always, “go take calculus and get at least a B.” Those who did generally got accepted.

    Thanks for your post and for caring about your troops.

    K Hill

    Liked by 2 people

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