More than 1 million veterans have taken advantage of their military education benefits in the years since President Bush signed the Post-9/11 GI Bill into law. With the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, colleges and universities across the United States can expect to see even greater numbers of veteran students on campus.
As a prior veteran student and current veterans program manager at Bellevue College, I have several ideas for how colleges can better serve veteran students.
Officials should start by reviewing the process for accepting transfer credits from military training and other colleges. Many veterans don’t have the opportunity to take all of their courses at the same college and often have credits from numerous institutions. By evaluating your process for accepting transfer credits, a veteran student will be able to make the most of his or her benefits. The American Council on Education has a free recommendation guide on accepting credit for formal courses and occupations offered by all branches of the military.
Most veteran students have a hard time adapting to college life. Veteran students are typically a few years older than traditional students and deal with issues that younger students haven’t experienced, such as providing for a family and paying a mortgage. For some veterans, college will be the first time they’ve slowed down enough to process their experiences at war.
Turn to your local VA office and other veteran associations for resources to help ease veterans’ transition to college. There are plenty of organizations that offer free services to veterans and their spouses that many colleges aren’t prepared to manage. That said, don’t assume that every veteran has post-traumatic stress disorder or has even been to war. Only trained professionals should talk to students about war. Our job is to make the resources readily available, if needed.
Create a veterans’ orientation. Some of the things to include in this orientation are: expectations in the classroom, general financial education – including veterans’ benefits – academic advising and career pathways. Most veterans haven’t been in a formal civilian classroom since they joined the military, and creating an orientation geared towards succeeding can be the difference between dropping out and completing their degree.
Hire at least one full-time employee that is solely dedicated to increasing retention and graduation rates of veterans. This person should also have a seat at the table to affect process change across campus. Just like any unique group on campus, veterans face their own distinct challenges and need someone that will work to improve their chances of success.
Track veterans’ retention and graduation rates at your college. By tracking success rates, in combination with using various exit interview strategies, colleges can better identify why their veteran students are leaving and make appropriate changes to their procedures and services.
Veterans offer a wealth of diversity, culture and unique experiences. By making veterans feel welcome on campus, and providing them the tools they need to succeed, we’ll increase veterans’ graduation rates and better serve the veterans who have served us.
Wesley Jones is a United States Air Force veteran who works as a veterans program manager at Bellevue College. He received a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University and a Master of Business Administration from Seattle Pacific University.