Helping Veterans Reach Their Educational Goals

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What does it mean to be a "veteran-friendly" university? There is no clear definition of what is a "veteran-friendly" institution, because the educational choices that our colleges offer students take different shapes and forms on every campus. The diverse offerings of today’s higher education communities oftentimes make it challenging to identify who is doing it best.

Campus culture, location, academic rigor, student body makeup, size, and more, all play a role in constituting “veteran-friendly” institutions. Today’s colleges and universities need to define “veteran-friendly” in a way that addresses both the needs of the veteran student and the institution.

  • 73 percent to 80 percent of student veterans are male.

  • 21 percent to 27 percent are female.

  • With only 10 percent to 14 percent of military personnel being women, female student veterans are over-represented in post-secondary education.

  • Only 15 percent of student veterans are traditionally aged college students. Most student veterans are between the ages of 24 and 40.

  • 47 percent of student veterans have children.

  • 47.3 percent of student veterans are married.

  • 62 percent of student veterans are first-generation students.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs

More than one million military veterans and their families are taking advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill to attend college. In 2008, the updated federal veteran’s education law pays in-state tuition rates and fees to the institution attended by the veteran or dependent spouse or children and provides students with a monthly stipend to pay for books, supplies and housing. The federal law has encouraged thousands of veterans to pursue higher education, and more are enrolled in post-secondary education than ever before.

But veterans still face challenges on campuses across the country. These challenges can include a lack of camaraderie and understanding among other students and faculty and difficulty in obtaining credit for military training and experiences. These obstacles can prevent veterans from returning to school or make it more difficult for them to finish their degree. 

The average veteran in college is very different from those who went directly to a university or trade school from high school. We might presume that our veterans will have the same or similar experiences as the stereotypical college student. This is a misconception (see sidebar).  

Second, as I always stress, beyond words of encouragement, we must offer a solution that is reasonable, practical and economically viable. That why I, in conjunction with students who are military veterans from Stockton University in Galloway, NJ, have authored a proposal that would create an annual grant program deemed the New Jersey’s Troops to College Program. This annual grant program of $150,000 would be awarded to three educational institutions that offer “a comprehensive array of series, benefits, and programs for veterans attending the institution.”  The thrust of my proposal is that we identify the institutions of higher education in New Jersey that have made a superior effort to assist student veterans in achieving their academic goals.

We occasionally hear the term “the last mile,” a general phrase that implies a final step, both symbolic and real, before reaching a goal.

For military personnel, the last mile — a fulfilling and well-paying job and integrating into civilian life — is the finish line. Student veterans who achieve an academic degree or certificate are positioned much closer to that finish line.

In this instance, New Jersey should take the lead and offer our citizens that proverbial boost, not out of pity or mandate but because it’s the right thing to do. After all, they signed on the dotted line and enrolled in the military to protect you and me. My proposal would help direct potential students to the institutions in New Jersey that have demonstrated programs that best fit their needs.

Please consider: The sooner a veteran returns to civilian life as a productive and full partner as a citizen, the earlier all of us benefit from that reintegration. And most important, it also creates a sphere of normality for veterans and their families.

Let’s not forget that student veterans not only demonstrated exceptional patriotism by joining the military, they also have exhibited that extra initiative by attending a center of higher education.  Let this legislation serve as a pathfinder for their educational efforts.

That’s my take, what’s yours?


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