What is an ACME and what sets the Council on Military Education in the South (COMETS) apart? Those are fair questions, so let’s start briefly at the beginning. An ACME is an Advisory Council on Military Education. These councils are designed to serve a specific geographic area and bring together leaders in higher education, policy makers and voluntary education personnel of the military installations in their service area. These service areas are usually states.
COMETS is currently the only regional ACME. It began in Texas and expanded to include Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The voluntary education community in these three new states saw the need for an ACME but circumstances were not right to have ACMEs specific to these states. To this day, COMETS remains the only multi-state and longest continually operating ACME in the country, besides the national umbrella organization for all ACMEs, based in California. California started the first ACME about 40 years ago. Its mission was so critical that it would eventually grow to become a national umbrella organization for the other ACMEs called the Council of College and Military Educators (CCMEs).
According to ACME historian, Gary Woods, the original Texas ACME found its roots in 1992 as the Council on Military Education in Texas. These advocates of military education policy in Texas came to the fight with a very specific cause: the one- third rule.
Under the direction of then-chair, Ken Ashworth, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board implemented a policy that required students at Texas public four-year colleges to complete at least one third of their degree requirements on campus. This was contrary to the lifestyle of active duty service members and against the strides being made by organizations like the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC). The warriors of COMET were successful in 1995 and the rule was repealed.
What are the key advantages of being a regional ACME? First, COMETS has been able to employ the “Red River rivalry.” Texas and Oklahoma have long-standing football-based rivalry. Both states’ unwillingness to be beaten in any arena has proven beneficial for military voluntary education. In addition to having the one-third rule repealed, the same spirit led to the honoring of in-state tuition at public colleges and universities for service members who do not meet the standard requirements for residency.
The larger ACME service area also brings in a greater number of schools from multiple accrediting agencies. COMETS schools are historically accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. When factoring in schools that serve the area through extension campuses and distance learning, almost all regional and national accrediting agencies are represented.
There are also opportunities for collaboration and regional activity coordination that benefit the COMETS service area. Recently, COMETS has worked with two veteran-centric charities in the region and met with leadership in Texas and Oklahoma’s higher education agencies to develop new services and strategies to better-serve veterans in both states. This relationship allows for the sharing of ideas and best-practices in an informal manner foreign to the rest of the country.
Finally, the country approaches sequestration and all organizations are facing budgetary challenges. Local travel and events may still be accessible under such conditions. COMETS is able to put together a regional conference with a depth of content and participation that may not be obtainable at a single-state ACME conference.
COMETS has the best of both worlds. It is small enough to have a measurable impact in the geographic area it serves, but is also large enough to positively impact the lives of service members when duty takes them beyond our borders.
In recognition of John Mitzel’s key role in turning the tide of higher education for service members stationed in Texas, COMETS has named a new award in his honor. The John Mitzel Founders Award will be given by the COMETS board to an individual, company or organization that has continued to better the lives of service members and veterans in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. The inaugural recipient will be named at the upcoming annual conference from April 8 to 10, in Oklahoma City, OK.
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