by Pamela T. Horne, AACRAO Consulting
The observation of Veterans Day is a time for parades, ceremonies and flags. For AACRAO SEM, it was also an important day to be thoughtful on how higher education can best support the academic success of those who have served. Day 2 of SEM kicked off with a stimulating Plenary Panel Presentation on Serving our Military and Veterans.
Chris Lucier, Vice President for Enrollment Management at the University of Delaware facilitated the panel that also included Keronica Richardson, Assistant Director of Women and Minority Veterans Outreach for the American Legion, and Lauren Augustine, Vice President of Government Affairs for Student Veterans of America.
Facts and myths
As one who began a second career in higher education after his service, Chris started the discussion with an important reminder that not only do service members and veterans provide important contributions to our student bodies, but also can be terrific additions to our staff. They’re quick learners who have had to change assignments regularly and be ready on day one. They are steeped in the values of leadership and loyalty and know how to build effective teams. And, oh yes, they show up on time!
Over 50% of those transitioning out of the military immediately pursue higher education. Their average age is 25, about half are married and 40% have children. Women are actually overrepresented. The largest group is pursuing bachelor’s degrees, then master’s, associate’s and terminal professional degrees. Veterans are academically successful. Student with among among the highest GPAs and graduation rates on many campuses. The GI Bill alone provides $14 billion annually in payments to higher education institutions. Supporting veterans is not only the right thing to do; it’s also smart.
Strategies that work
Effective administration, policies and programs are critical to the success of this large and important group of students. All of panelists agreed that peer support is particularly crucial. Student Veterans of America supports 1500 campus chapters across the U.S. in addition to their advocacy work and research agenda. Keronica reminded us that partnering with community groups of veterans e.g. local American Legion posts is also an effective strategy. Finding and connecting with others with similar experiences is vital for all students, but especially those who have served – there is an immediate sense of family. In general, if we serve veterans well, similar programs, policies and services also will support other non-traditional students.
Veterans don’t have school counselors to provide pre-college advice and many are first-generation, so specialized pre-matriculation communications and orientation programs are needed. Child care assistance, housing referrals and efficient course scheduling and sequencing should be provided. Veterans are more likely to thrive when a campus has an inclusive and welcoming culture and recognizes of the talents and experiences of veterans. Special events for student and staff veterans are appreciated, as is campus programming on Veterans Day. Chris recommends that campuses consider having a campus-wide veterans council to plan for and support students, to respond to issues and to connect with community and campus partners.
A foundational part of the welcoming culture is to ensure that there are competent and well-trained staff (with back-up) to handle certification of benefits. These are the front-line people who have to deal with the complex VA systems, answer many questions about benefit eligibility and can be the first touchstone for referrals to other important student success services.
Advocating for veterans
Panelists also commented on the recent backlog of VA disbursement of funds to students and institutions and lauded those colleges and universities that have provided flexibility and funding for those students in need.
After World War II, the first GI Bill changed lives, families and the country by democratizing higher education. Post 9-11 GI benefits are providing profound educational opportunities for new generations of widely diverse and deserving veterans and their families. AACRAO SEM participants were inspired by these experts to re-commit to honoring and effectively serving them.