More than 5 million post-9/11 service members are projected to transition out of the military by 2020.
Many will seek out higher education. But while veterans can bring tremendous value to the nation’s college campuses, their path to a degree is often more complex than that of a traditional undergrad.
Veteran students are typically older than their peers. Many juggle work and family responsibilities. And on top of that, adjusting to civilian life comes with its own set of hurdles.
“Veterans value their education benefits, but it’s often a very difficult transition,” said Tommy Lucas, interim director of the Office of Military and Veteran Enrollment Services at Saint Louis University (MO).
Here are three ways college admission professionals can help veterans succeed:
1: Discuss financial aid options.
GI Bill benefits are generous, but vets often need additional financial support to complete a degree. Discuss scholarships as well as federal, state, and institutional aid with prospective students and know whether your college participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program. The initiative offers additional funds to students whose annual cost of attendance falls above the cap set by the GI Bill, and can be particularly helpful for vets considering a private college or pursuing a graduate degree. Learn how the program works at your college so you can best advise vets about their options. At some campuses, funds are limited and are dispersed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Vets also need good information about potential gaps in funding. “There may be a period of time when they first enroll in classes where they are not receiving their benefits,” Lucas explained. “It often takes the VA a few months to process the paperwork for the veteran.” Financial counseling can help students prepare for that initial gap, as well as semester breaks when veterans are ineligible for benefits. “Many veterans believe that GI Bill benefits cover the semester gaps, but if the school is not in session the veteran does not receive benefits,” Lucas said. “As such, we should advise our veterans to plan their budgets accordingly so they can ensure that they have the money to cover their financial obligations.”
2: Cut through the red tape. The military has a leg up on many colleges when it comes to managing transitions, said Lucas, an Army veteran. When a soldier is transferred from basic training or to a new base, they’re assigned a sponsor who shows them everything they need to know to adapt to their new assignment. “Military personnel are used to having someone who’ll say: Go to this office, talk to this person, and ask these questions.” Admission professionals can help fill that role by anticipating a veteran’s concerns and laying out the steps they’ll need to take to register for classes, file paperwork, and complete other crucial tasks.
Saint Louis University developed a student veteran’s checklist, which outlines those steps for incoming and current students at the university. “Developing this checklist has aided the students in the enrollment and registration process,” Lucas said. “It gives them all of the pertinent contact information for resources on campus and in the greater St. Louis community.”
3: Establish support systems.
Does your college have a student veteran association? Encourage prospective students to get involved and support other programs that help bring vets together.
Lucas enrolled at the University of Colorado after leaving the military and he credits a professor, who also happened to be a veteran, with helping keep his education on track.
“I don’t know that I would have persisted to graduation (without his support), and then he even encouraged me to go onto graduate school where I found another veteran professor who encouraged me to go for my PhD,” said Lucas, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in higher education administration. “Peer-to-peer mentorship and encouragement is really important…It’s not just about recruiting veterans to your campus, it’s about helping them persist to graduation.”
Read more about veterans in higher education in the spring edition of NACAC’s Journal of College Admission. An article about veteran transfer students begins on page 44.
Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.