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CAEL Pathways Blog

CAEL Forms Community of Practice Dedicated to Serving Military-Connected Learners

Adult learners and workers have been central to CAEL’s mission since the organization’s founding, 50 years ago last month. It’s not surprising that military-connected learners figure prominently within that history. Military service fosters a learning-rich environment that develops a wealth of competencies. But it’s not always clear to veterans how they best translate those experiences and learning into a higher education pathway or directly into civilian employment. 

Today, the annual number of U.S. service members returning to civilian status is about 200,000. In fiscal year 2023, more than 555,000 veterans and their families used education benefits available to them through the post-9/11 GI Bill. While many organizations offer support to this population, CAEL’s established relationships within the postsecondary education and training, workforce, economic development, and employer sectors uniquely position it to deliver comprehensive, well-integrated impact. To further develop this capacity, CAEL has incorporated a new strategic vision that will work to ensure the military-connected population realizes even greater support in the civilian world. 

An important component of this strategy is a new military-connected community of practice, which began in February with the formation of a pilot workgroup in Illinois. Carolyn Swabek, CAEL’s director of community engagement, and Doug Heckman, CAEL’s vice president of partnerships, lead the community of practice and plan to extend its scope to include a national workgroup. Like CAEL’s other communities of practice, including CPL as transfer credit, this latest collaboration focuses on diverse sources of expertise around common challenges and opportunities. In the case of the military-connected community of practice, that expertise includes two former military-focused CAEL groups, also based in Illinois: the Veterans Higher Education Affinity Group (VHEAG), founded in 2011, and the Alliance for Veterans in Higher Education (AVHE), founded in 2020. CAEL Ambassadors and members of the CAEL Military Advisory Group round out the members.

“The purpose of this community of practice is to connect and engage CAEL members who serve military-connected learners,” said Heckman, a U.S. Air Force veteran. “The group will amplify military-ready solutions while incorporating member voices to develop innovative cross-sector partnerships and initiatives.”  

The community of practice, which held its inaugural meeting in February, will convene monthly through November. One of the focus areas of the group will be to establish the groundwork for a national community of practice. “We’re immensely grateful for this group’s expertise and enthusiasm; it’s helping us envision how a national community of practice could operate in the most impactful manner. CAEL looks forward to coordinating with other CAEL members and funders to help make this a reality,” said Heckman. 

The community of practice is also taking a lead role in highlighting the military-connected learner population at CAEL’s annual conference, Oct. 30 – Nov. 1 in New Orleans. The conference will feature a military-learner break-out session with a guest speaker, “lightning round” presentations, and networking. The community of practice is also developing webinars and additional member resources.

For more information about this military-connected community of practice, including how your organization can help, visit cael.org.

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