Certain groups of students in universities and colleges are sometimes categorized as “at risk,” meaning their chances of completing their degree are statistically lower due to factors in their lives and backgrounds. This, of course, does not mean that these students will not successfully graduate; it simply means that often face bigger hurdles in their journey and could benefit from specialized support.
While veterans may already come from some of these at risk backgrounds – for example, first-generation college attendees or low-income communities – they often also face an additional layer of challenging circumstances. For example, many must work full-time while taking classes, need to support and care for a family, deal with physical and mental injuries, and make ends meet while facing the difficulty unemployment after separation from the military.
The good news is that student veterans also happen to retain training and experience from their time in the service that can be extremely valuable when correctly utilized. Many professors, advisors, and university leadership have observed that veterans tend to exhibit high levels of determination, hard work, common sense, ability to follow direction, and a good sense of teamwork. When a university or college proactively works to make student veterans more successful, they benefit their student body as a whole and help send out highly motivated alumni into the world.
National statistics indicate that 94 percent of public two-year colleges have a designated office or point of contact for military-connected students, and much of these offices’ work focuses on helping student veterans find out more about, apply for, and put to use their educational benefits, like the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Additionally, an increasing number of colleges are working to tailor some of their academic policies for veterans, including offering priority registration for courses, granting academic credit for prior learning during service, and offering residency waivers.
Some learning institutions are investing in an increased outreach and recruitment effort for veterans, while developing tools to help students veterans self-identify earlier in the process. Special events like veteran-specific orientations with veteran-specific registration packets can not only help a university identify its veterans earlier, but can connect veterans will helpful resources before a moment of crisis. University resources – such as help with financial aid, housing, and academic course schedules – are typically located in different offices and it can be a challenge to coordinate between them. Proactive universities are looking for ways to centralize information that can be helpful to their student veterans.
To further increase the understanding of student veteran needs, some colleges have begun offering special training to faculty covering best practices for teaching veteran students. Others are working to ensure that advisors in the advising offices are aware of the strict guidelines of the G.I. bills to ensure that classes being recommended are indeed covered by the bill.
Non-academic services are also very important to helping veteran students experience a successfully college experience. Many universities and colleges support Student Veterans Association clubs, support groups, veterans’ lounges, and activities and events to recognize veterans. Some colleges also put extra effort into helping veterans find employment, either by organizing veteran-focused career fairs, setting up business centers, or simply teaching veterans how to optimize their resume to transition their military training into job-related experience. Some career services on campus support veterans who are interested in starting their own business (there are more than 2.4 billion veteran-owned businesses in the U.S.), and connect student veterans with mentors in industry.
One main challenge faced by universities and colleges hoping to better support on-campus student veterans is a lack of resources; many advising offices have only one or two experts trained in veteran benefits and regulations. Many universities are petitioning for an increase in funding to be able to hire more support staff, as well as a reduction in federal red tape in utilizing the G.I. Bill. These steps would allow more focus and support to be turned to the veteran him or herself, offering an improved academic path that will help the veteran graduate with a useful and employable degree, as well as create more bandwidth for advisors to notice and respond to early signs of academic distress in their veterans.
Like the rest of the nation, educational institutions are recognizing the value of and special challenges faced by U.S. veterans returning to the classroom. As the number of veterans utilizing the G.I. Bill increases, it’s important and beneficial to the entire nation to take steps to ensure they are successful in not only their college education but in their full transition to civilian life.
Here are also some more tips for veterans considering college.
Written By Megan Hammons