In 1973 James F. Nickerson was asked to set up the four-year Servicemen's Opportunity Colleges consortium. He had a solid philosophical background in adult education and a firm way of dealing with college and university chancellors and presidents. With the deep wounds of the Vietnam War still fresh on many college campuses, Dr. Nickerson first declined and then agreed to go to Washington as Interim Director. After two months, he accepted the permanent Director's position and remained in it until 1981.
During his tenure, Nickerson and his SOC staff worked with consultants, committees, and other small groups on SOC infrastructure and formulated the early editions of the SOC charter, bylaws, the principles and criteria, and the SOC contract with the Department of Defense. He spent considerable time and effort visiting institutional presidents on their campuses encouraging them to have their institutions become SOC members. In many cases, this required institutions to make major changes in policies and procedures to accommodate service members in accordance with SOC criteria and having those policies and procedures reflected in their institutional catalogs.
Initially, the response by the nation's campuses to the Servicemen's Opportunity College concept was, at best, mixed. However, Nickerson and his staff persevered and built the SOC consortium on the cutting edge of the adult education movement. Within 22 years, what had once been revolutionary became commonplace policy and procedures for colleges and universities serving adult students.
In 1981, Dr. Nickerson was awarded the Secretary of Defense medal for outstanding public service. In October of that same year, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities established the James F. Nickerson Medal of Merit as a tribute to Dr. Nickerson's service and dedication. The Nickerson Medal of Merit is awarded periodically to those public leaders, educators, and representatives of the armed services who contributed significantly to advancing the national interest through their advocacy of and dedication to the expansion of voluntary education opportunities for military personnel.
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