A Voice for VolEd - Q&A with Kelly Wilmeth
NAIMES continues its advocacy for military-affiliated students.
In addition to serving as current president of NAIMES, Kelly Wilmeth is the vice president of UMUC’s Stateside Military Operations. In this role, she is responsible for UMUC’s staff and operations on military installations across the country and for overseeing UMUC’s outreach to and growth among the military and veteran student population across the United States. Wilmeth began her career with UMUC in 2009 while stationed in Korea with her husband, who is an active-duty Army officer. Wilmeth is a military spouse who has lived all over the world in the past 20 years. She has worked for several colleges and universities that currently or once provided educational services to the U.S. military and their families, to include City Colleges of Chicago – Programs for the Military Europe, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the University of Oklahoma.
Wilmeth holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Stanford University and a master’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of New Mexico.
Q: Explain to our readers what NAIMES is as an organization, and the role it serves in the Military Voluntary Education Community?
A: The National Association of Institutions for Military Education Services (NAIMES) was founded in 1975 to advocate for military-affiliated students and the institutions that serve them. Of immediate concern in 1975, and one that continues today, 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 Program. Several of the issues for which NAIMES has provided significant input over the years include state authorization for institutions operating in multiple states, third-party assessment reviews of institutions operating on military installations, in-state tuition for military students and their families, earlier versions of the current DoD Memorandum of Understanding, and the recent closures of the CONUS Navy College Offices.
Q: How does NAIMES as an organization differentiate itself from other groups like CCME or the state ACMEs?
A: NAIMES is a member-driven, action-based organization that advocates for the military student and collaborates with the military education community for the betterment of the off-duty Voluntary Education Program.
As a force for academic quality and continued improvement, and as a military student advocate, NAIMES’ members promote best practices, provide a perspective of a diverse higher-learning community, and 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: Since the last time we profiled NAIMES in the magazine, your organization held its annual meeting. Tell us about that event.
A: NAIMES’ members met for the last annual meeting in late October 2016 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis in Georgia. The meeting was extremely productive and everyone left with a clear purpose and path ahead for the organization. The Policy and Issues Committee led several valuable discussions about issues and topics that academic institutions are experiencing, such as Tuition Assistance processing delays and new counseling procedures provided by the Navy’s Virtual Education Center following the closing of Navy College Offices across the country.
In addition, we discussed concerns with policy that (has been or) may soon be released by the Department of Defense, Department of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The policy concerns included: limitation of housing allowance provided to Veterans using their GI Bill for distance learning and online education programs; recent House Bill HR3016 proposing to reduce GI Bill benefits to family members; military installation/ base access concerns for student counseling; and thoughts on institution success measurement tools that the DoD, DoE and VA are using and presenting to the public.
On day two of the conference, we were honored to speak with Dr. Jonathan Woods, representing the DoD’s Voluntary Education Program. Dr. Woods provided an update on current projects and the progress of their Strategic Plan. He stressed the importance of all DoD MOU signatory institutions to familiarize themselves with this Strategic Plan to understand DoD’s goals for the Voluntary Education Program.
Dr. Woods asked NAIMES to encourage all institutions to review the Strategic Framework, which outlines the mission, focus areas, guiding principles and performance indicators of the Strategic Plan. Understanding these goals can help the institution understand why DoD is implementing certain policies. The call with Dr. Woods also allowed the members a chance to inquire about some burning questions regarding base access, student data collection at education fairs, and any impacts (positive or negative) on sailors pursuing a college degree as the result of the Navy College Office closures.
Q: NAIMES is actively involved with the CCME annual symposium. What were your takeaways from the 2017 symposium?
A: The CCME Professional Development Symposium was once again a success. Attendance was very high with strong participation from academic institutions, Educational Services Officers and counselors from all branches of the military, the individual services, DoD, VA, and numerous other supporting organizations. Important highlights from the symposium included the unveiling of DoD’s new Compliance Program. Dr. Jonathan Woods provided detailed program information and discussed DoD’s key areas of focus with the selected educational institutions.
Another key takeaway came from the Navy, which offered information on pending changes to its NCPACE program and the closure (effective 30 September) of the four remaining Navy College regional hubs. The CCME symposium continued to offer opportunities for broad discussion across a wide spectrum of military and academic topics and a multitude of opportunities to collaborate.
The need for transparency, open dialogue, and communication among DoD, the VA, the individual services, and academic institutions remains critical, as we are collectively responsible for providing high quality educational programs and support services to our nation’s military and veteran students, and their family members.
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 comprises a mix of 2-year, 4-year, public, private, online, regionally accredited, nationally accredited, non-profit, and for-profit institutions, all of which together reflect a cross section of the current makeup of institutions participating in the DoD Voluntary Education Program. Of the current 22 member institutions, four represent the 2-year public sector; six represent the 4-year public sector; eight represent the private, non-profit sector; and four represent the private, for-profit sector.
Membership in NAIMES is by invitation and determined by a need to diversify membership or to incorporate an identified shift in trending modalities, program interest areas, or institutional types. However, the NAIMES Membership Committee—one of the organization’s four standing committees—is researching possible new membership structures to allow for increased participation among educational institutions and supporting organizations. Possibilities include rotating membership and/or creating a tiered structure. The committee will present its recommendations to the NAIMES membership for consideration at its next annual meeting.
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 to the military community, we strive to ensure that all institutions have an avenue to voice their concerns and those of their students, to raise awareness of issues and challenges, and to highlight innovation and best practices.
As a smaller group, it is easier to reach consensus, provide meaningful action to address policy and issues, and to advocate for change. Collectively, the member institutions of NAIMES bring vast experience to the table by working closely with the military and veteran education communities and support almost 300,000 military-affiliated students. This carries significant weight in advocating for student needs, taking action to affect change, promoting best practices, and modifying ineffective policies or procedures.
NAIMES provides multiple avenues to collect feedback from non-member institutions, including the “contact us” page on our website, postings on our Facebook page, quarterly newsletters, during bi-monthly Coffee Chats and roundtable sessions at CCME, as well as through participation at the state-level ACME conferences. As such, NAIMES is able to quickly react to issues and challenges and draft official correspondence to other agencies voicing its collective concerns.
Q: Tell us about the NAIMES Student Spotlight Awards.
A: The NAIMES / MBS Direct Student Spotlight Awards highlight the role that higher education plays in the lives of our military students. Through the submission of applications, resumes and essays, our pool of applicants vies for one of five annual awards valued at $1,200 each.
In 2016, we asked our military applicants to address the question of how the pursuit of higher education would benefit their personal and professional growth either within or outside the military. We asked our military spouse applicants to introduce us to who has been their most important influence in deciding to further their education and why?
NAIMES and MBS announced the five 2016 scholarship recipients at the annual CCME symposium held in Atlanta, GA in March. Applications for the 2017 Student Spotlight Awards opened on 15 June and will close on 15 September. NAIMES and MBS Direct look forward to saluting the next round of scholarship recipients for their service to our nation, their accomplishments and successes to date, and their achievements to come.
Q: What issues has NAIMES been involved in during your tenure as President?
A: Initially, I have been focused on positioning NAIMES to support organizations that advocate on behalf of military and veteran students. For example, the Presidents of the Virginia, Florida and Mid-South ACMEs invited NAIMES to their 2017 annual symposiums to provide information about the NAIMES’ organization to symposium attendees. Because NAIMES and the state ACMEs have very similar missions, I believe it is important to support their symposiums to provide another venue for communication to military and veteran students and supporting organizations.
I have asked the NAIMES’ membership to support as many of the ACME symposiums as possible by getting involved in their various initiatives. I continue to publish the NAIMES Newsletter to spotlight all of the support that our colleagues and partners across a large group of organizations, agencies and academic institutions provide to military-affiliated students. In addition, the NAIMES’ membership will stay abreast of the new DoD Compliance Program to address any concerns that may emerge during the review process. I hope that NAIMES will have the chance to provide input if changes are identified. We continue to stay abreast of the Navy’s closure of the four remaining NCO hubs to identify potential impacts on sailors who are utilizing Tuition Assistance and needing academic counseling. While doing so, we also want to assist the Navy by spreading the word about the variety of tools and resources made available to sailors via its Virtual Education Center.
This summer we finalized a NAIMES Strategic Plan to guide our activities, outreach and key deliverables over the next five years. Lastly, NAIMES will publish its first-ever Annual Report next January for public distribution. This report will focus on our vision, mission and strategic plan, describe our activities throughout the calendar year, share best practices, and identify areas for improvement as we continue to advocate for military-affiliated students. Most importantly, this report will be an additional venue for NAIMES to provide transparency regarding its activities and to cast as wide of a communications net as possible to garner collaboration in support of our mission.
Q: Looking forward, what do you see as the driving issues within the Military Voluntary Education Community in the coming years?
A: As always, the availability of tuition assistance funds among the various service branches will be a driving issue, especially with a new administration and new fiscal year budget. Any shuttering of funding as we witnessed during the federal government shutdown in 2013 can have huge implications on our military members’ ability to remain in college.
The ability for servicemembers to gain access to counseling services, onsite personnel from their chosen academic institutions, and face-to-face instruction will most likely remain an area of concern over the next few years. To address these issues, some changes are pending to the existing DoD MOU and the DoDI 1322.25.
It will be important for NAIMES and other non-member academic institutions to have an active role in the dialogue. I believe the next few years will also bring an increased demand for certification programs, as more and more employers are looking for these certifications as proof of skills and competencies, as opposed to—or perhaps in addition to—an academic degree.
Finally, with a new administration on Capitol Hill, we will keep a close eye on proposed changes to the federal regulatory environment and possible impacts on higher education that are specific to military and veteran students.
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 as individually through our member institutions. Through boards and committees, focus groups, councils, and annual symposia, such as CCME, SVA, NAVPA, and the individual state ACMEs, we are able to dialogue and collaborate with leaders and key stakeholders across a wide spectrum of organizations.
What we always find is that our goals, as well as our challenges, are very similar. Working together, we can provide the best educational opportunities for the military community.
NAIMES also provides position papers on relevant issues within the military and veteran community in response to identified needs. We invite the DoD, the VA, and service leaders to provide updates and presentations during our annual meeting, and in those discussions, we identify issues of importance to them. Usually their concerns are our concerns and may be topics that NAIMES wants to research and collectively support as an advocate for military-affiliated students.
Visit www.NAIMES.org to access important information published in the quarterly newsletter.