By 2020, more than 5 million post-9/11 service members will transition from the military into civilian life. Many will enter the workforce, while others will use the GI Bill to earn their bachelor’s or graduate degrees.
Your college or university needs to begin recruiting more veterans now. These students bring necessary diversity to the classroom by possessing experience most civilians can’t understand. Plus, while fewer students are earning a postsecondary education, institutions can compensate by enrolling service members who already come with governmental subsidies.
Given the right support services, veterans — with their characteristic grit — will stay in school, graduate and become loyal alumni. But how can you attract this much-needed group?
Become More Than Veteran-Friendly
Service members are told with extreme specificity what to do, how to do it and when to do it, making higher education’s focus on giving students choices overwhelming. Admissions offices should recognize this change and tailor separate recruitment strategies to aid veterans in the process of selecting schools, applying, enrolling and deciding which programs to study.
To begin, make sure your school’s admissions website has a prominent link that leads directly to informational materials for degree-seeking vets. Also, make sure the forms and applications are clear. Instead of asking, “Are you a veteran?” you should inquire, “Do you serve or have you ever served in the United States military?” because some former service members don’t self-identify as veterans even though they can still benefit from the educational assistance offered.
Your admissions staff needs to be knowledgeable about its institution’s specific funding and services for veterans. At many institutions, the only person who knows these details is the vet benefits administrator, but admissions counselors should have a working knowledge of the benefits and services offered so they can engage with potential veteran students.
Ultimately, the best way to enroll more student veterans is by creating a brand that shows how your school understands each veteran’s unique talents, challenges and needs. To do this, your entire school should coordinate efforts to truly become veteran-friendly.
Adapting Your Messaging for All Veterans
Veterans possess a different set of life skills and priorities than students just graduating high school or adults returning to finish their degrees. Speak with your marketing team, and translate the benefits of your institution in a way that resonates with veterans by taking into consideration their skills and technical experiences.
Here are a few ways this can be done:
- Host events. From a brand standpoint, colleges and universities can raise awareness of their commitment to veterans through sponsorships and by participating in fundraisers focused on veterans’ issues. Institutions should also host informational sessions specifically for veterans on campus or near bases to explain the process of applying, the types of funding available, and the support services that are available on campus.
- Create a social media strategy. Social media is cheap, but it takes time and strategy. You can host Twitter chats for veterans and let them ask questions while directly engaging with staff and students on campus. LinkedIn has a veterans’ mentor network, and RallyPoint offers many opportunities for paid lead generation, advertising and sponsorship.
- Build a veterans-only space on campus. One of the biggest challenges for veterans is adapting to the loss of camaraderie and belonging to a troop. Schools can help by offering free counseling sessions and creating a space that is dedicated for veterans to congregate, study, and meet one another. Also, programs such as Student Veterans of America and vet-to-vet mentorships with local businesses offer opportunities for leadership and community engagement.
- Coincide life experience with course requirements. Use the joint services transcript, and work with academic departments to align with university credit-awarding for military and life experience. Veterans don’t necessarily want to feel like they’re starting at zero when working toward a degree.
Also, help incoming veterans with CLEP testing so they can test out of basic courses and start with career-focused classes. You could offer courses that help veterans adjust to civilian life and find a new career or develop a minor or certification program in veteran studies that could be of interest to many veterans and civilians alike.
Veterans aren’t just a student group that’s nice to have — they’re a need-to-have in order to bring a holistic and more interesting classroom experience for all students. Veteran-friendliness should extend far beyond a badge on your website or a plaque on the wall — it’s a mindset and an intentional priority that needs to be recognized by all student-serving staff.
Jessica Shasserre is the director of higher education marketing at MediaCross, a recruitment marketing agency dedicated to helping others achieve their goals.