Students in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC or ROTC, for short) have a lot on their plate. In addition to the arduous work as Penn students, they also train for military service. Yet, the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) is not serving ROTC students sufficiently.
Despite previous student advocacy efforts in 2014, Penn students’ Naval Science (NSCI) courses do not count as credit toward their CAS degree. Furthermore, the College stands alone in offering no credit since some NSCI classes count in Wharton, Engineering, and Nursing.
I am advocating that the College Office and the Office of the Registrar — both of whom did not reply to an email for comment — grant ROTC students credit for their NSCI classes.
Regarding the NSCI credit unit discrepancy between Penn’s undergraduate schools, Class of 2021 College graduate and former NROTC student Reagan Bracknell said that her naval science courses “take up just as much time as a regular course for your major or an elective… you go to Naval Science twice a week for an hour and a half at a time.”
Bracknell noted that the rigor of the average NSCI course is comparable to a Penn course, sharing that “some of the classes I took for naval science took up more time for me studying-wise than some of my classes for my [Modern Middle Eastern Studies] major.”
As for the instructors (who are active duty Navy officers), Bracknell shared that “the quality of instruction is insanely good” because the officers are sharing their “living experiences” of navigating ships and engineering on submarines.
A typical ROTC class includes readings for homework, weekly or biweekly quizzes, and a final exam or paper, according to rising College sophomore Amanda Yagerman. Furthermore, when viewing her schedule on PennInTouch, an NSCI course is labeled “one [credit unit] like any other class, but it doesn’t actually translate into credit.” To me, that sounds like the rigor of a Penn class. Do any of your extracurriculars quiz you on a regular basis?
To me, it is unacceptable for ROTC students to put in work so grossly uncompensated. Yet, some students — including Yagerman — feel that it is just. Given that ROTC students are awarded tuition scholarships, Yagerman feels that having her coursework be uncredited is fair, adding that NSCI classes do not “contribute directly to any other majors that Penn is offering.”
However, there are many students on scholarships at Penn who still receive credit for classes they take. Additionally, ROTC students are getting a comparable Penn education. Outside of their naval science courses, ROTC students are required to enroll in classes that contribute to CAS majors and general requirements, such as calculus, physics, English composition, and world culture.
I asked Yagerman if it would be beneficial if naval science courses counted as an elective credit. She said “that would be nice”, but conceded that it would perhaps be “unfair that only [ROTC] students can take [a naval science] class for credit”.
However, Bracknell has an idea to traverse this obstacle: with the exception of Navigation, she says that the naval science curriculum “is not as specific as you would think” and the classes would be comparable to taking any pre-professional class. Imagine a world where any Penn student — not just those registered in ROTC — would be able to take certain NSCI classes like the Evolution of Warfare or Seapower & Maritime Affairs. After all, Penn cares about offering interdisciplinary educational opportunities.
Another potential reform that Bracknell brought up was the creation of a naval science minor, which would give the registrar a justification for granting credit for Penn's listed naval science courses.
The hope is that other student leaders may be open to discussions for change. Rising Engineering senior Aidan Young, who serves as the External Chair for the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education (SCUE), told me that the ROTC academic credit loophole is “new for us.”
“I don’t see a reason why they shouldn’t count for credit [in the College],” said Young, in response to Bracknell’s point about ROTC classes being of similar academic rigor. “I’m sure there are definitely people in SCUE who would want to work on this.”
Young’s message to ROTC students signals a sign of hope for a more inclusive policy in the future: “reach out or work with us. We’re always open to partnering with people and organizations who want to attain some academic policy.”
The student-led advancement of inclusive academic policies is worth fighting for.
JADEN CLOOBECK is rising College senior from Laguna Beach, Calif. studying psychology. His email address is email@example.com.