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Let’s Not Let Them Down – Stories from Veterans on Housing Allowance

WCET Frontiers Blog - July 24, 2017 - 6:07am

Following up on the Housing Allowance for Veteran Distance Ed

“The technology has advanced, but not the laws” says one of the veterans, Aaron Slatton, whom we spoke with this week regarding the Basic Housing Allowance reduction imposed on veterans who take classes fully online. “Simply put,” he said, “there is less benefit.”

The GI Bill was put in place to provide our service men and women certain benefits to help them resume a civilian life, including housing benefits while they are completing their education.

When signing the GI Bill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that this bill let our men and women in the military know that we “do not intend to let them down” (1944).

Our veterans deserve all the benefits that were guaranteed by this (and other, similar) legislation. I was happy to see Congress making additional updates to the bill, guaranteeing expanded benefits and opportunities for these brave men and women. However, as WCET reported last week, they missed a vital chance to correct a major issue in distance education for this student population.

GI Bill Reduction for Housing

Veterans of the U.S. armed services are eligible for funding to pay for tuition, fees, books and supplies, and a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) while pursuing postsecondary education, but ONLY IF their courses are taken fully on campus. If their courses are online, the BAH is cut in half (see (c)(1)(B)(3)).

After sharing the story of how the BAH decrease has affected veteran Danny Stuckey last week, WCET has received several more stories. Today, I’d like to share some of these.

Housing Rule Impact My Housing Payment Doesn’t Change

Aaron Slatton, the U.S. Marine who I mentioned earlier, says that the BAH rule strongly affected him when he was using his GI Bill benefits, and also impacts the students he works with daily as a Veterans Affairs Specialist with Indiana Tech.

“There are many students who are forced to take an on-campus class so that they can collect the full amount of BAH. Distance Ed classes have the same content and amount of work that on campus classes have. It really makes no logical sense that I get paid less than an on-campus Vet, considering we both do the same amount of work. Either way, my housing payment doesn’t change. I don’t have a cheaper payment because I don’t go to school.”

Aaron is pursuing his MBA and also works full time to support his family, including his three-month-old daughter. Currently his family is only receiving half their BAH because to balance working fulltime and school, he takes his classes online.

A Student Quits College

Deborah Rydman, the Career Services Coordinator and VA School Verifying Official for University of Alaska Southeast, sent us several stories, including the story of a veteran she worked with who was faced severe consequences due to the BAH rule. He has stopped taking classes.

Deborah reminds us that life is different in rural Alaska: “I worked with one student last year who {was} taking our Business Administration degree program but lives over 1,000 miles away from our campus. He expressed frustration on how he couldn’t find a class at one of our branch campuses near where he lives for a semester, and was discouraged that he wouldn’t be able to complete his degree… He stopped taking classes after last fall semester.”

Online Might Be the Only Option

Another veteran brought up a very important detail: sometimes, whether a student takes a course online or on-campus, really isn’t their decision.

“Many universities…are dropping on-campus courses in favor of online courses. If I had it my way, I would take nothing but on-campus courses. Unfortunately, UAS (University of Alaska Southeast) students are no longer able to complete a degree without being forced to take some, or most of those required classes, online.

The clause of required time on campus for full benefits seems arbitrary. The only people it hurts are the veterans attempting to take advantage of what they have earned (by putting their life and mental health at risk). The option to take on-campus courses is becoming increasingly difficult… The payout should be the same for each and every veteran that earned the GI Bill. No matter the method at which one chooses to use it.”

Students Waste Their Time and Benefits on Unneeded Courses

Another student struggled to balance school, GI Bill requirements and her family’s needs. “I have struggled with that situation because with the upper credits I needed to graduate… I often had to take classes that I was not necessarily interested in/focused on and had to sacrifice a very relevant course for one that was offered in the school. …

Impacts to Family

Several veterans told us that their family suffered because of the decrease in their housing allowance. One said: “I cannot afford to send my son to daycare and pay our bills with the limited BAH. Although I am a full-time student the only time I can do any of my coursework is after 7 PM. I go to school full-time only because that is the only way I get BAH “

Another added, “as a stay at home dad, finding time to do fatherly things and pay bills was a challenge. My job demands much of my time and commuting makes managing time a challenge. A lower BAH means restricting me to live in either a further location, which increases commute time, or living nearer and spending more money, thereby restricting my cost of living.”

A veteran and working mother told us, “it makes things difficult as a mom of four to work full-time, cook meals and give them full attention while going to class. It would be easier to be able to have help but I can’t afford that.”

Others told us that they were forced to move their families to different states so they could go to school but receive the full BAH.

Recommendations from Veterans

We have almost 300 additional responses to our questions regarding the impact of the BAH reduction on our veterans. The students discussed that the BAH rule impact has forced them to take student loans, not use their promised GI Bill benefits, reconsider their choice of school due to cost of living, extended length of time to degree completion, and caused severe stress to them individually and to their families. American Public University System (APUS) collected these responses from their students.

The veterans we spoke with have several recommendations when it comes to changing this rule:

  • “The BAH should be taken off pro-ration for number of days attended and that individuals get paid the full benefit regardless of being an online or on-campus student.”
  • Students should receive the “full BAH with the housing cost based off the local university campus closest to the student.”
  • “As long as the student-veteran is classified as “full-time” at a university/college then they should receive 100% BAH. Most veterans don’t have the luxury of going to a traditional “brick and mortar” school and not work.  We have earned the benefits inherent in the Veteran’s education benefits.
  • “I think the rule works fine for those that are just taking classes on the side, while also having regular employment. However; I think that those who choose to go to school full time without an additional job deserve the full bah stipend.”
  • “Base the BAH on the course load and the zip code the student lives.”
  • “We deserve it.”

I was saddened by the survey comments that said they weren’t sure their stories would make a difference. Many of them feel that no one cares that they face this additional challenge while trying to work and achieve their degree.

Let’s not let them down – It’s your turn to act.

Help us by contacting your representative or senator and asking them to address this issue as these bills move forward. We included a letter template in our previous blog post.

House of Representative members by state:  http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Senators: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

Time is short, the House will act this week and the Senate plans to follow closely behind.

Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communications
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


Russ Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies




Roosevelt, Franklin D. (1944). Statement on Signing the G.I. Bill. The American Presidency Project. Retrieved from www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=16525

FDR Signing GI Bill Photo FDR Library Photo Collection, NPx 64-269

U. of Southern California Says It Will Fire Puliafito

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 22, 2017 - 12:11pm
The medical professor, a former dean of the medical school had led a secret life of illicit drug use, a newspaper reported earlier in the week.
Categories: Higher Education News

Months After ‘Transracialism’ Flap, Controversy Still Rages at Feminist Philosophy Journal

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 21, 2017 - 5:06pm
The Board of Directors of Hypatia has temporarily suspended the authority of the Associate Editorial Board.
Categories: Higher Education News

Fired Title IX Officer Alleges Retaliation in Suit Against Texas A&M Campus

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 21, 2017 - 4:00pm
Gerardo Alva says he was unfairly accused of theft and let go after complaining about the handling of a sexual-assault case.
Categories: Higher Education News

A Warning, a Crusade, and a Public Reckoning at the U. of Florida

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 21, 2017 - 2:27pm
A lawyer’s requests for records provide a rare look at the inner workings of a top public-research university. It’s not pretty.
Categories: Higher Education News

A Case of Mistaken Identity Spurs Hateful Messages for a Sikh Professor

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 20, 2017 - 7:15pm
The website Campus Reform corrected an article that initially purported to show the professor (it was actually his brother) giving two middle fingers to Trump Tower. But not before the hate started pouring in.
Categories: Higher Education News

When Substance Abuse Hits the C-Suite

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 20, 2017 - 6:59pm
The University of Southern California’s cautious response to a former dean’s drug-fueled double life highlights an uneasy balance of compassion and accountability that such cases often evoke.
Categories: Higher Education News

Groups Call on Civil-Rights Official to Reject ‘90 Percent’ Statement on Campus-Rape Cases

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 20, 2017 - 12:55pm
The National Women’s Law Center, joined by more than 50 other groups, said in a letter that Candice Jackson’s remark last week sent a “destructive and inaccurate message.”
Categories: Higher Education News

Need Dorms? Here’s One College’s ‘Crazy’ Idea to Recycle 3 Buildings

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 20, 2017 - 9:36am
Instead of demolishing and rebuilding the 55-bed residence halls, Goucher is moving them, intact, to another spot on campus.
Categories: Higher Education News

In Defense of the LMS

WCET Frontiers Blog - July 20, 2017 - 6:07am

Many of us have worked with Learning Management System (LMS)s in one way or another, as administrators, instructors, support, assistants, or students. And, through working with these platforms, many of us end up strongly disliking them.

This week we welcome Sasha Thackaberry from Southern New Hampshire University to discuss this love/hate relationship between higher education and LMSs and provide new insights on using the tools in more practical and successful ways.

Enjoy the read!


Ah, the much-maligned Learning Management System (LMS), the technology we collectively love to hate. It’s often bulky, either feature-bloated or feature-wanting, and has been created seemingly without hiring any user experience designers. For years we’ve been wanting to get rid of it. No one actually likes it. We put up with it. We collectively sigh and move along with our day.

Instead, we propose innovative solutions beyond the LMS—a future learner-centered technology ecosystem that lies just beyond reach wherein we extend a non-LMS platform through rich interoperability. We dream of deploying best-in-class integrated solutions for all of our learning and teaching needs—from basic assignment and assessment management to social interactions, content curation environments, adaptive learning, Competency-Based Education (CBE) systems and Learning Object Repositories (LOR.) This idealized future has not been largely adopted in higher education, and for good reasons, which we’ll explore later.

Maybe, instead of hating on this category of technology of admittedly legacy origin, we might try to evolve our ecosystems more practically, both within and beyond the LMS. This defense of the LMS is a proposal for a pragmatic path forward.

Realizing the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE)

The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) vision proposed by Malcolm Brown, Joanne Dehoney, and Nancy Millichap has been the point of reference for most conversations surrounding this improved, learner-centered technology-enabled future. Other versions of this concept have also been proposed. This concept is based on five domains: interoperability and integration, personalization, analytics, advising and learning assessment, collaboration, and accessibility and universal design. These are really good domains. The NGDLE is a solid and innovative framework from which to view a future, more dynamic learning ecosystem.

Many groups have worked to bring this future closer to reality, like EDUCAUSE through thought leadership, IMS Global through the creation of open interoperability standards, WCET by facilitating the conversation, among others. There have been innovative projects like TEx from the University of Texas System, focusing on a user-centered mobile-based experience, the app store at the University of North Carolina campuses, and systems designed exclusively for CBE like Brainstorm by Ellucian (now closed), Sagence Learning and Fidelis’s LRM solution.

There have even arguably been some success stories regarding a post-LMS world. Western Governors University, for example, has eschewed the LMS in favor of an extended Salesforce platform and usage of curated courseware. However, these examples have still been largely isolated in the marketplace, and have not gained significant traction. It remains that most colleges and universities prefer, at least for the moment, to stick with a traditional LMS. It may be cost, it may be the challenge of overcoming inertia and a feeling of LMS-related powerlessness, it may be lack of internal development capacity.

It may be a lot of things, but the practical fact remains—

  • most colleges and universities utilize LMSs and
  • most folks who work with them are not particularly enthusiastic about them.
And Another Thing We Learned from MOOCs

One of the things we learned from MOOCs has been that consumer-grade technology can be utilized for learning at scale, for relatively low cost. Even more importantly it can make the learner-as-user experience significantly less painful. The technology should fade into the background. It should support a seamless learning experience wherein the learner takes center stage. Despite the trough of disillusionment that MOOCs are currently experiencing, the fact remains that they are here, they are massive, and learners are voluntarily engaging with them, despite having little skin in the game. The large MOOC engines did hire user experience designers (they arguably should have also hired more instructional designers; a MOOC I am currently taking has immeasurable objectives like “understand”).

Why was this possible? They were freed from the assumptions of legacy systems, and, apart from the cMOOCs (“the originals”) they were largely developed by non-learning specialists who were able to look at the learning environment differently. This is one of the many disruptions of MOOCs, the fallout of which has not yet been fully realized.

Practically Speaking: The Reality on the Ground

Why is there this dissonance between what we in edtech largely agreed was needed decades ago and what has been realized in colleges and universities? Part of this dissonance is a cultural conversation. Engaging in large-scale system changes that involve students and faculty is difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Many institutions do not have adequate funding to cover the cost of simultaneously running two systems while weaning themselves off of the previous one. Most LMS moves in the past five years have been precipitated by the deprecation of other LMSs like Angel and eCollege. At least a few of these changes have been affected by statewide discounts on specific LMSs or other variables like membership in Unizin.

In many cases, the discussions surrounding the NGDLE underestimate the power of status quo in LMS usage patterns. In institutions where the LMS is an add-on to supplement on-ground courses, or wherein online programs have cropped up on an ad hoc basis, it is hard to make the cultural argument for the rest of the institution that the disruption is worth it. Most online courses and programs are still instructor designed and developed; a one-to-many model is not the norm. And in cases where there is a strong online division within a larger institution, there is still the powerful fear of “first, do no harm,” with the perception of opportunity cost for student success being larger than reality.

So what are we to do?

Pragmatically Speaking: Proposing a Middle Ground for Realizing the NGDLE

I propose that institutions should evolve the LMS from within. As we undergo such an endeavor, it will be paramount to acknowledge that we are not the users. Learners are the primary users. Faculty are secondary users. And the rest of us should support. Often we have no idea what the user experience really is because we don’t test it, or we don’t ask good enough survey questions to get any actionable data that goes beyond surface inquiries. If we do get actionable data, it is rare that action is actually taken. This proposed pragmatic approach relies upon a consistent focus on the learner-as-user.

There are various functional groupings that are present in the learner-experience first. I will not address here the invisible systems that support the student experience.. Within the learning experience itself there are categories like gradebook management, assignment submission, testing and quizzing, Content Management Systems (CMS,) or preferably Learning Object Repositories (LORs), and content authoring tools. Social engagement tools are needed, as are content curation and collaboration spaces. Outside of the immediate learning environment there are needs such as advising support systems and apps, enrollment activities and bookstore purchasing and provisioning.

All of these functional groupings can be plotted in reference to whether the LMS has those native features or whether the system would need to be extended to support them, and whether the LMS supports that functional grouping in a shallow or deep way. Institutional needs will vary on both spectrums, and conceptualizing of building the NGDLE on an LMS in this way is practical; it has the added benefit of being able to get a better learning environment to learners sooner.

Institutions would then be able to both evaluate LMSs, or other systems, with their needs in mind. If there are functional groupings that a given institution knows they want to use in a deep capacity, that institution may want to look for an LMS that has more of that functionality native to the system in a deeper manner. Likewise if there is lightweight usage, having that feature as a native functionality is a bonus because it is then not necessary to extend it. For needs that may be deeper, and which the LMS does not support natively well, that is where the system would intentionally be extended, preferably through standards-based, plug-and-play integrations, but also through more custom APIs if necessary (quantity and quality of data being both necessary.)  Institutions should then avoid like the plague extending their LMS to get shallow functionality, particularly that which is rarely used.

Some institutions still largely utilize their LMS as a document repository and for grades; for online courses this usage expands to the deathly hallows of the discussion boards, for assignment submission and for formative and in some cases summative objective assessments. This relatively shallow usage does not dictate a robust ecosystem, rather it requires a more user-friendly experience. This is a more culturally and fiscally pragmatic approach with which to analyze appropriate systems.

The Future: LMS as a Platform

But we still want to get to our ultimate goal—a highly interoperable ecosystem with a best-in-class, learner-as-user experience. Given our current, collective limitations, what are we to do? Instead of searching out alternative platforms, we might partner with LMSs to reconceptualize the LMS as a platform. In many ways, the LMS is already beginning to evolve in this direction. Canvas has their App Store, which is a more individual faculty-driven model. John Baker of D2L recently utilized the oft-referenced Lego analogy. LMSs in general are moving away from individual building blocks or custom integrations towards open standards like LTI, but the robustness of that interoperability is still inconsistent across what version of LTI their product meets. LMSs are integrating more seamless synchronous video functionality – both Canvas and Brightspace have synchronous tools built on Big Blue Button.

An LMS will never out-Twitter Twitter, or out-Facebook Facebook, or indeed even come close to a functional version of those types of social platforms. And they shouldn’t try to. Rather we should work towards interoperability—even of these consumer tools—and do our level best (and more) to respect student data privacy. Putting the selection of input streams and publishing streams into the hands of learners will facilitate the robust nature of the learner-as-user experience. It will also embed within the educational experience the expectation of a partnership between learning institution and learner, enabling a relationship that will persist beyond graduation and alumni activities as we move to a world where continual education is necessary.

This is just the beginning of that evolution. No one likes the walled garden, but there’s not a plausible open playground yet. For many, if not most learners, we need to Chipotle the LMS. We need a core product with flavor options selected by the institution, the faculty or the learner, dependent on institutional model, in an easy-to-use format. (This analogy ignores the recent food contamination issues, though in some cases that might actually be an appropriate analogy in and of itself.)

What Can You Do to Help

Standards, standards, standards. Though Caliper, an open standard for measuring learning activity through IMS Global, was released a year and a half ago, there has been limited adoption, most of which can be attributed to the chicken or egg scenario. Those of us who work at higher education institutions need to be the incubators. We need to stand collectively together and, with loud and insistent voices, demand that learning resource vendors and tool providers adhere to more complex standards. We need to ask the same thing of our LMSs. We need to collectively spend our money to make that happen. RFPs need to require adherence to open standards, and the most recent versions of those standards. With purchasing power we can accelerate the development of interoperability.

This interoperability is the critical piece of the NGDLE puzzle.  But each institution, depending upon their models for online education, need to evaluate both LMSs and extensible products based on their particular needs and culture. Adoption depends upon culture.

Our options are to either evolve what we have or continue to wait on a future that has not materialized in the years since it was conceptualized. And we can evolve, intentionally, now. An evolution, without the blood of a revolution, can have revolutionary effects for learners.  Let’s put our money on that.



Sasha Thackaberry, Ph.D.
Assistant VP, Academic Technology and New Course Models
College of Online and Continuing Education
Southern New Hampshire University




Former Top Official in Obama’s Education Dept. Is Named President of ACE

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 20, 2017 - 3:01am
The American Council on Education’s choice is Ted Mitchell, under secretary of education from 2014 to 2017, who will take office as the Trump administration seeks to dismantle some of his policy priorities.
Categories: Higher Education News

Students Accused of Sexual Assault Have the Government’s Ear. What Are Their Goals?

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 19, 2017 - 8:10pm
These students and their allies stress that they want the campus disciplinary process to be fair. But that’s not all they’re fighting for.
Categories: Higher Education News

Adjunct at BYU-Idaho Says She Lost Her Job for Facebook Post Supporting Homosexuality

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 19, 2017 - 11:38am
A practicing Mormon, Ruthie Robertson said she was given the chance to remove the post, but she stood by her beliefs, which she said she had never expressed in the classroom.
Categories: Higher Education News

Texas A&M Removes Provost Over Conflicts of Interest

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 19, 2017 - 11:02am
The office of the provost paid her spouse more than $114,000. The university acted after an investigation cited the provost for five breaches of the code of conduct.
Categories: Higher Education News

President Trump Made a Promise to Black Colleges. It Hasn’t Happened.

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 18, 2017 - 7:00pm
The White House Initiative on HBCUs was to be moved from the Education Department to the West Wing.
Categories: Higher Education News

Heard About the Facilities Arms Race? One Professor Says You Should Be Skeptical

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 18, 2017 - 4:44pm
Kevin R. McClure keeps a list of news articles that describe a boom in campus amenities. He questions that phenomenon and whether those projects are really driving up tuition.
Categories: Higher Education News

‘If There’s an Organized Outrage Machine, We Need an Organized Response’

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 18, 2017 - 4:31pm
In a time when scholars’ comments can bring them under intense scrutiny, professors contemplate ways to actively support their colleagues.
Categories: Higher Education News

The Leadership Imperative

U.S. Department of Education Blog - July 18, 2017 - 1:20pm

During my tenure as the Washington Principal Ambassador Fellow, I have found myself frequently reminded of a hard truth: teachers do not quit students or schools, they quit leaders. Teacher shortages are a national concern within the educational landscape. According to the Learning Policy Institute report, 40 states, as well as the District of Columbia, reported teacher shortages in mathematics, science and special education.  Another study suggests ”school leadership… [is] independently associated with corresponding reductions in teacher turnover.”

To solve this problem, we must be willing to ask hard questions that directly address leadership capacity and its impact on teacher turnover. What experience do leaders have in induction programs, building effective teams, and instructional supervision? Are principals being prepared to be managers or leaders? Do school leaders know how to build authentic collaboration with their staff members? These questions are important because the implications of ineffective school leadership mean more than a loss of teacher talent; it causes ripple effects that impact school climate, student achievement, and learning communities across the nation.

During the 2016-2017 school year, I met a first-year teacher who transformed from an energetic and ambitious burgeoning educational star to a “one-and-done” disengaged skeptic of the educational process. The cause: a school leader who overlooked innovation and ignored what was best for students and teachers. The effect: a first-year teacher who resigned and committed to not returning to PK-12 education. This is just one example of how quickly bad leadership can snuff out what could otherwise be a candle in the dark for many students and fellow educators.

Good leaders manage people and general operations.
Great leaders inspire and energize constituents.

Good leaders stand on the shoulders of competent personnel.
Great leaders build up others for leadership and support their success.

Good leaders accept things for what they are in the present.
Great leaders are visionaries who seek to inform the future with innovation, creativity and strategic planning.

Good leaders know that their actions will spark a reaction.
Great leaders know how to cause an effect that will inspire and motivate the hearts of staff, students and the community.

Thankfully, during my year as a Principal Ambassador Fellow, I have also had the opportunity to serve alongside great leaders from across the country, like my fellow Principal Ambassador Fellows. I witness great leaders in action during Teach to Lead summits, and I support great leaders through national engagement outreach at the Department of Education. Through these experiences, the leadership imperative has magnified into a moral imperative beyond teaching and school leadership roles. Through the efficient use of time, talent and other resources, states and local districts can champion research-based, leadership training. Even further, I suggest that we as school leaders take the time to reflect on the impact of their leadership by asking a simple question, “How can I successfully serve those in my school and reignite my imagination and passion for inspiring children?” Our nation’s children deserve the absolute best.

Jean-Paul Cadet is a 2016-17 Washington Principal Ambassador Fellow.

Photo at the top: Principal Ambassador Fellow Jean-Paul Cadet addresses a recent Principals at ED event.

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The post The Leadership Imperative appeared first on ED.gov Blog.

Categories: Higher Education News

U. of Central Florida Student Says He Was Suspended for Viral Tweet of Ex’s Apology

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 18, 2017 - 1:02pm
After Nick Lutz graded his former girlfriend’s letter of apology with a red pen and posted it on Twitter, it was retweeted more than 100,000 times. He says the university told him he had violated rules of conduct on disruption and cyberbullying.
Categories: Higher Education News

Medical-School Dean Is Said to Have Led a Secret Life With Illicit Drugs and Prostitutes

Chronicle of Higher Education - July 17, 2017 - 7:08pm
In a bombshell report, the Los Angeles Times says a prolific fund raiser and renowned eye surgeon at the University of Southern California was also a wild partyer. He has since stepped down.
Categories: Higher Education News


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