Advising, mentoring and support services are critical if veterans and active-duty military are to succeed in postsecondary education today, witnesses said at a congressional hearing held Wednesday on the 12th anniversary of the September 2011 terrorist attacks.
“As more troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, postsecondary institutions now face the largest influx of student veterans on campus since World War II,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who chairs the House higher education subcommittee that held the hearing.
Innovations cited by experts included the University of North Carolina system’s UNC Serves, a special committee that focuses on issues facing active-duty military and veterans, said Kimrey Rhinehardt, vice president for federal relations at the North Carolina campus system. The system has a military student success policy that includes guidelines to help improve admission, data collection, campus support systems and transfer of student credit for veterans.
A veteran is “not the typical student,” said Rhinehardt, noting that they may need help to navigate complex GI Bill benefits as well as a decentralized campus with varied education programs and requirements. Rhinehardt said institutions can be most effective by offering “a one-stop-shop approach” with a central location for veterans to receive assistance.
Saint Leo University in Florida awarded 1,485 degrees to veterans last year, double the number from two years ago, said Arthur Kirk, university president. He credited the progress in part to a major increase in the number of veteran counselors at the university, which jumped from 20 to 52.
Many faculty and staff also receive training on veteran issues, including how to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder through training provided by the university’s office on veteran student services, explained Kirk. A retention alert system identifies students at risk of falling behind in their studies, while online course options help active-duty and veteran students continue their enrollment, he added.
In some cases, the university even has paid short-term rent for veterans who were unable to get a housing allowance because they had not enrolled in school full time. Helping veterans deal with the myriad rules on benefits is a major priority, Kirk said. “These kinds of changes can throw them way off course,” he told the panel.
Other military- and veteran-friendly policies can include a liberal leave policy and personal bereavement time, said Russell Kitchner, vice president of government relations at American Military University, a for-profit online institution. Technology and librarian support are available 24 hours a day, and the university sets its schedule so there are courses that begin every month of the year. In this way, the university can provide flexibility based on changing active-duty military schedules, said Kitchner.
The hearing also highlighted a new seven-state collaborative on military credit that’s been in operation since early 2012. So far, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio are working together to identify barriers facing veterans in higher education, said Ken Sauer, senior associate commissioner for research and academic affairs at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
One key topic across the collaborative is credit for prior learning, through which service members and veterans can get credit for past military training. At Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College, for example, officials identified military experience that can fulfill more than half of the credits needed for an associate degree in criminal justice and nearly half the credits for an associate degree in construction technology.
“These examples benefit all parties,” Sauer said. “They save money for both the veteran and the taxpayer.”
Elsewhere on the anniversary of September 11, 2001, the American Council on Education announced a new Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions, which is designed to help colleges and universities promote access and success for former service members. The toolkit includes blogs and interactive discussion forums to help colleges and universities enhance service to veterans. For more information, visit the web at http://vetfriendlytoolkit.org.