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Academic Advocate

Leading NAIMES in improving academic opportunities for military students.

Gary Harrah

President

National Association of Institutions for Military Education Services (NAIMES)

Gary Harrah is a retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant with 23 years of service, and currently serves as the National Director, Military and Veteran Partnerships for the University of Phoenix where he has held several positions since his retirement from the military in 2004. Gary is a product of the Air Force voluntary education system and holds two Associate Degrees from the Community College of the Air Force; a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education, with dual minors in Criminal Justice and Instructional Techniques and Principles, from Wayland Baptist University; a Master of Science in Computer Resources and Information Management from Webster University; and a Master of Business Administration with emphasis on Human Resource Management from the University of Phoenix. Harrah has also completed all coursework towards a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership and is currently completing his dissertation.

Gary was a past president of the Council for Military Education - Washington State (CMEWS) (Washington ACME).

Q: In the interest of informing our readers about just what NAIMES is as an organization, when and why was it established, and what role does it fulfill within the Military Voluntary Education Community?

A: NAIMES was founded on March 26, 1975, in Los Angeles, California. Its first By-Laws were adopted on that date and have continued in force with only minor modifications since then. Over the years, NAIMES developed a pattern of annual and semiannual meetings among its institutional representatives to discuss the relationship of the Institutions with the Department of Defense and with the individual military services. Of immediate and continuing concern was the desire of the member institutions to meet and exceed quality standards established by the military services. From its beginnings, NAIMES sought to provide a collective voice for the institutions to assist DOD in establishing regulations for the department’s Voluntary Education Programs. Several of the issues that NAIMES has provided significant input for in the past, have been state authorization for institutions operating in multiple states, 3rd party assessment reviews of institutions operating on military installations, in-state tuition for military students and their families, and earlier versions of the current DOD Memorandum of Understanding. Over the years, NAIMES has grown from an original membership of seven educational institutions to its current membership of 22. The NAIMES mission today remains the same as when it was originally formed, which is to advocate for the military community student and the institutions that serve them.

Q: How does NAIMES as an organization differentiate itself from the role other groups like CCME or the state ACMEs fulfill?

A: NAIMES is a member-driven action based organization which advocates for the military student, and partners with the military education community for the betterment of off-duty Voluntary Education programs. As a force for academic quality and continued improvement, and as a military student advocate (to include veterans, family members and DoD Civilians), NAIMES members promote best practices, provide a perspective of a diverse higher learning community, and will take positions that reflect the collective will of the membership. CCME, on the other hand, is an active proponent for the professional development of those serving in the military education community, by providing a forum for the exchange of information on educational programs, strategies, and innovation among its members, and associated partners. Finally, the ACMEs are more local in nature (state or multi-state) and focus on evaluating and restructuring policies related to acceptance and transfer of credit for veterans, military students, and their adult family members; enhancing the educational aspirations of the military and veteran population in their state(s); and in making educational programs accessible in cost, location, and scheduling. Each of the three organizations serves a purpose and a unique role in providing quality service and support to military and veteran students and their families.

Q: Let’s talk about membership in NAIMES for a moment. What criteria has NAIMES developed in selecting member institutions? How does an institution become a member of NAIMES?

A: The current NAIMES membership is comprised of a mix of 2-year, 4-year, public, private, regionally accredited, nationally accredited, non-profit, and for-profit institutions, all of whom together reflect a cross section of the current makeup of institutions participating in the DoD Military Voluntary Education Program. When a need is identified to invite a new institution to maintain diversification of membership or to incorporate an identified shift in trending modalities, program interest areas, or institutional types, then the NAIMES President, on the recommendation of its membership committee, will extend an invitation to an institution which meets these changing needs of the military/veteran student demographic, and has already established success in supporting and serving the military community.

Q: What value does NAIMES provide to other institutions that may not be members, but are engaged within the Military Voluntary Education Community?

A: Even though the number of member institutions is relatively small in relation to the 2000-plus that provide services for the military community, we strive to ensure that all institutions have an avenue to voice their concerns, issues, and challenges, as well as a way to highlight innovation and best practices. NAIMES strives to raise awareness that the organization serves as a forum for non-member institutions and their students voices to be heard, regardless of how big or small they are. As a smaller group, it is easier to come to a consensus and provide meaningful action to address policy and issues, and to advocate for change. Collectively, the member institutions of NAIMES support almost 300,000 military and veteran students, and their spouses, the representatives from these institutions have 100’s of years of experience in working within the military and veteran education communities. . This carries significant weight in advocating for student needs, taking action to affect change, or to make recommendations in promoting best practices, or modifying ineffective policies or procedures.

Q: How can an institution that is not a member of NAIMES bring their issues, concerns, or innovative ideas to the table?

A: Over the past year, NAIMES has put forth considerable effort to connect and open additional lines of communication and identify issues relevant to the military student community. We have started a quarterly newsletter that is disseminated through multiple channels, held our first roundtable at the annual CCME Professional Development Symposium (PDS) to gather issues and best practices, and have reinvigorated the official NAIMES Facebook page and website. In addition, we have fostered a closer working relationship with the various state ACME’s, by inviting their Presidents onto our NAIMES calls, and giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns and share best practices. Finally, we have created new dedicated organizational email addresses so that items of interest may be communicated directly to NAIMES Leadership.

Q: How does NAIMES as an organization determine which issues to champion or weigh in on?

A: We have a policy and issues committee, chaired by our Immediate Past-President, that is responsible for consolidating the information gathered by NAIMES through its outreach efforts, collaboration with other organizations, or through immediate need based on newly implemented policies or procedures. The committee will then make recommendations to the membership on which issues to pursue, research, or to take a position on. Not every issues affects every institution, so discussion is then held on next steps, level of response, how to handle the issue, etc. A consensus is needed for NAIMES to move forward on an issue.

There is a delicate balance in determining the level of response and the perception of motivation. Due to the significant number of students that our member institutions serve, it is important to focus more on those issues that affect the Military and Veteran Education Communities as a whole, rather than those that only affect the largest schools. One of the first questions asked on any issues is “Does it benefit all military and veteran students?”, or would advocating for this issue come across as only self-serving to our membership.

Q: That’s interesting Gary, so with that said, what issues has NAIMES been involved in during your tenure as President?

A: One of the larger and most publicized issues has been advocating for the military student, as a result of the decision to shutter all of the Navy College Offices on installations within the United States. NAIMES provided a letter to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy raising concerns with the proposed closure. The ability to have personal one-on-one face-to-face counseling creates a more informed student better able to make important decisions relating to how to map out their educational journey to reach their individual goals. By moving the type of counseling provided to sailors from the Navy College Offices to a permanent virtual only environment, the risk is there that the specific needs of individual students will not be identified and thus not met. Even though the Navy ultimately decided to continue with the planned closures, as a result of the letter and the questions raised, and the ground-swell of grassroots efforts from other organizations, such as the state ACMEs supporting approximately 20 states, several revisions were made to the original plan, including several locations remaining open for an additional year.

Q: Looking forward, what do you see as the driving issues within the Military Voluntary Education Community in the coming years?

A: Great question! I believe that one of the next challenges within the Military Voluntary Education community will be the unique questions raised with Competency Based Education (CBE). Some of these challenges are regulatory in nature and will need to be addressed by the accreditation bodies as well as the Department of Education and Department of Defense. However, the unique skills, training and ancillary responsibilities that military service provides don’t always lead to ACE recommended course credit. Programs that recognize this experiential learning and allow the student to progress through known material, would streamline the learning process, shorten degree completion time, and allow the student to focus on new unlearned material. As a matter of fact, we are currently putting together a working group of NAIMES and non-member schools that currently have these programs in place, to help us in identifying specific challenges and best practices, so if anyone is interested in participating please let us know!

Also I still believe in the need for face-to-face counseling. Both initial counseling with the individual service education counselors, and with the academic institutions once they become a student, is very important. With the Navy making their decision on closing their physical education centers, and some of the current student access concerns being felt by the schools, it will be interesting to monitor the persistence and continued success of the military student community. In my experience, military and veteran students make very good students in regards to attendance, participation, self-discipline, motivation, teamwork, and project management. We need to ensure that we continue to provide them the support services necessary to guarantee their long-term success and completion of their academic goals.

Q: How does NAIMES interact with the Department of Defense, the individual services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs?

A: NAIMES has a strong working relationship with each of these entities, collectively as an organization, as well individually through our member institutions. Through boards, working groups, councils, and other venues, many times we share a table and collaborative roles with leaders from these, as well as other military and veteran organizations. Working together, NAIMES also provides white papers and position papers on relevant issues within the Military Voluntary Education Community when a need is identified and falls within the mission of our organization. Also, we invite DOD and Service leaders to provide updates and presentations during our annual meeting, and in those discussions we also try to identify issues of importance to them. Usually their concerns are our concerns and may be topics that NAIMES wants to take on for research, institutional feedback, or support.

Also we are working on developing an Annual Report, to be published early next year, on the state of military voluntary education initiatives from an institutional perspective. This report will focus on best practices and innovative ideas, but will also identify areas of concern, recommended changes to current policies, or process improvement ideas to advocate for military and veteran students, and their families.

Q: Before we close is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

A: Just that we want everyone to understand that regardless of whether your institution serves two or three veteran or guard/reserve students in the local community, or thousands nationwide, know that you have a voice. Due to overwhelming feedback from attendees after the last CCME PDS, we have increased the roundtable sessions at next year’s symposium in Atlanta from one to three, to allow more opportunity to participate. Information on the Symposium can be found at www.ccmeonline.org and we look forward to hearing from you at our roundtable discussions. Information from these round tables will be reviewed for action by our Policies and Issues Committee and reported in our Annual Report. We solicit your ideas, your best practices, your issues, and your concerns, and will do our best to ensure that your voice is heard. Please feel free to contact us through our website (www.naimes.org), our Facebook page, or email me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Additional Info

  • Issue: 11
  • Volume: 8-9
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