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'Military friendly' college lists prompt concerns

By Justin Pope

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 30 2012 1:50 p.m. MDT

"We're the most stringent and transparent out there," said Sean Collins, who directs the publication for Victory Media. It's now begun surveying students about their experiences, and is beginning to include that data in its website, though it isn't used to determine which schools make the list. Collins says the magazine consults an advisory board of veterans education professionals on the survey questions.

Yet while G.I. Jobs discloses its general formula, and its website offers extensive raw data with college responses, it doesn't disclose a cutoff score or quantify what it takes to make the "military friendly" cut.

Its list includes some schools that, the magazine's own charts reveal, check hardly any of the boxes that comprise the magazine's criteria for inclusion — for example the Academy of Cosmetology in Florida, which doesn't offer credit for military services, has no veteran-specific campus resources and where just three of the 75 students are veterans. Such schools may well be military friendly, but their inclusion raises questions about how 2500 claimed respondents failed to make the cut. In print, the guide from a leading rival, Military Advanced Education (MAE) magazine's "Guide to Top Military-Friendly Colleges and Universities," says of its formula only that any college wishing consideration can submit answers to a questionnaire.

The magazine sent the questionnaire to 1,800 institutions and received 362 responses. Of those, 289, or about 80 percent, made the cut, said officials of the publication and its parent company, KMI Media Group.

Before this year, whether a school made the cut was up to editor Maura McCarthy, who reviewed the submissions and decided without using a point system.

"Maura had a good idea in her head as to what would make somebody military friendly," said Kirk Brown, publisher at KMI. This year, he said, it will move to a more objective system. "Each year that we've done this, we've attempted to raise the bar in terms of the criteria and our evaluation process."

Other sites that turn up on online searches, such as www.militaryfriendlycolleges.org, say nothing about their criteria. Typically they feature eclectic lists of colleges and sometimes ads for for-profit schools. An email sent via the "Contact Us" portion of that site went unanswered, as did a telephone call to the California phone number where the website is registered.

In fact, critics say, there's no right way to quantify whether a college is military friendly; a subjective judgment, like MAE's, may actually be more appropriate if well-researched. The objections are to false precision, and the criteria used.

Factors like whether a college offers online courses or gives credit for military work can be important. Still, few highly selective colleges offer course credit for military work; that doesn't mean they don't welcome veterans, said Jim Selbe, who has worked for decades in veterans education and is now an administrator at the University of Maryland University College, a large military education provider.

A small school, meanwhile, could have few veterans, no veterans "club," and few resources just for veterans — yet still be very welcoming culturally, just as a large school with lots of resources on paper might not.

Selbe says none of the current designators of "military friendly" colleges are transparent enough that students should rely on them to make a decision. His advice: Spend time talking to a well-qualified academic adviser, to pick a school that's a good fit in terms of culture and expected outcomes.

"There are just too many variables in that decision to make it on a school being recognized by a publisher as military or veteran friendly," he said.

Maddox, the former Marine, advises students to go straight to www.gibill.va.gov and avoid any site mentioning veterans or the GI Bill ending with ".com."

Most critics would find the lists unobjectionable — even valuable — if they presented themselves simply as resources for information, and dropped the claim to identify who is "military friendly."

One site, Military.com, has done just that, and stopped using the term "military friendly."

"We stepped back and looked at it, and said the loose criteria we've allowed to become this term 'military friendly' isn't serving our members," said managing editor Terry Howell. "We can't make that promise, that guarantee, that that's going to be the service member's experience."

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AP Education Writer Kimberly Hefling and News Researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.

Follow Justin Pope at http://www.twitter.com/JustinPopeAP

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