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A Strategic Imperative: How Universities Can Cost-Effectively Enroll and Support Veterans

With an enrollment cliff and questions of value plaguing the higher education sector, postsecondary institutions have a strategic imperative to provide veterans with easy access, recognition of prior learning and meaningful professional experiences.

The conversation about effectively serving and supporting student veterans in today’s higher education landscape often resonates as a patriotic sentiment, but it should also be viewed as a strategic imperative. While universities nationwide strive to diversify their student bodies and enrich their campuses, student veterans offer a unique opportunity beyond mere inclusion. They are a well-funded, highly motivated and diverse cohort whose academic and personal success can be a significant asset to any institution.

Here’s how universities can adopt cost-effective strategies to enroll and support military students, turning a socially responsible effort into a financially beneficial one.

Recognizing the Value of Student Veterans

Student veterans bring a wealth of experience, leadership skills and a global perspective that enriches classroom discussions and campus life. Additionally, they are more likely to be first-generation college students and come from low-income backgrounds than nonveteran students. They have higher degree completion rates, typically carry higher GPAs than traditional students and will likelier attend full-time.

Veterans’ maturity, life experiences and diverse perspectives contribute to a more inclusive and robust academic environment. Universities should recognize these students’ immense value in terms of personal attributes and financial contribution to the institution.

The Financial Advantage of Supporting Veterans

A key aspect that sets student veterans apart is that they are often well funded with VA education benefits, reducing the need for financial aid and increasing the likelihood of persisting to completion. Enrollment is only half the equation, however. There are quite a few challenges student veterans face that non-military students don’t—and understanding them is imperative.

Universities that effectively recruit and support military students are fulfilling their social responsibility and strategically investing in a relatively financially stable student population.

Cost-Effective Enrollment Strategies

Assess Your Institution’s Existing Military Population

The best place to gauge institutional interest and buy-in is to assess the current landscape. Ask your faculty and staff if anyone is affiliated with the military and hear what they have to say about the military students they’ve encountered. They most certainly will have made observations.

  • What are you doing well, and where are the gaps? Host a few listening sessions over coffee if you have identified a veteran student population.
  • Why did they choose to attend your university? Often, a deep well of students who’ve recommended your institution is concentrated around a central duty station, community or cluster of veterans who share experiences. Word-of-mouth in the military population is powerful. 

Focus Your Marketing On Base

On-base and base-targeted marketing should be a key component of your strategy. Think about marketing on or near military installations close to your campus and any base proximate to a cluster of applicants or students. You may have discovered such pockets after hosting the listening sessions mentioned above. They may be drawn to program design, flexibility or desirability for those in a particular military occupational specialty (MOS). If you determine why, lean into that as a value proposition!

Streamlined Admission and Processes

Universities should consider simplifying admission processes for veterans, acknowledging their military training as part of their academic credentials. This approach can enhance the institution’s attractiveness to veterans and expedite their enrollment. 

Targeted Communication

Developing communication strategies specifically addressing veterans can be a game-changer. Additionally, tapping into word-of-mouth recommendations from well-supported veterans will pay off exponentially. Effectively using digital platforms and social media to reach military students can ensure the university’s message of support and opportunity is heard loud and clear.

Partnerships and Collaborations 

Forming alliances with local and national veteran organizations and leveraging VA resources can support veteran students without incurring additional costs. A critical component of an on-base marketing campaign is establishing a relationship with the installation’s military education office and with the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office.

Supporting Student Veterans: A Cost-Effective Approach

Veteran-Specific Orientation and Services

Implementing veteran-specific orientation programs can help address veterans’ unique challenges. Additionally, establishing a veterans resource center or dedicated support services can significantly enhance students’ campus experience.

Peer Mentorship Programs

Facilitating peer mentorship, which allows veteran students to help each other, is helpful and cost-effective. It leverages the existing student body to provide support, reducing the need for extensive staff resources. A cost-effective way to launch a peer mentoring program is to partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to supervise students through their veteran ambassador work-study program. Eligible students can earn an hourly wage the VA pays to help fellow veteran students navigate their college or university. 

Flexible Academic Policies 

Adjusting academic policies to accommodate the unique circumstances of those still serving can send a strong signal of support to all military-affiliated prospective students. Active-duty military, National Guard or Reserve members may be navigating drill or deployment schedules, and active-duty spouses may have relocations to consider. Policies allowing military students to fulfill these service obligations without disrupting their studies can ensure continued enrollment.

The Return on Investment: A Win-Win Scenario

Investing in student veterans is a win-win for universities. Military veterans are not just well funded but also contribute positively to the academic environment. Their success stories can become a part of the institution’s narrative, enhancing its reputation and appeal. Effectively supporting student veterans can also free up financial aid resources for other students, maximizing the impact of university funds.

Seamless and Strategic Call to Action

Embracing student veterans is essential in today’s higher education landscape. Institutions as diverse as the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse University and Golden Gate University are seeing strong ROI from their investments in this area. Universities should seize this opportunity to enhance their campuses, both culturally and financially, and enrich the academic experience for all by effectively supporting the students who have served our country.