Published on 2014/07/08

Defining Terms: Understanding What Makes an Institution Military- and Veteran-Friendly

Defining Terms: Understanding What Makes an Institution Military- and Veteran-Friendly
More institutions are branding themselves as “military-friendly” or “veteran-friendly” to gain access to a massive and growing marketplace, but institutions that use these terms must now adhere to strict guidelines to ensure honest practice.
Colleges and universities that want to appeal to servicemembers and military veterans often say they are “military-friendly” or “veteran-friendly.” They cite various programs, policies and external awards they have in place to justify their claims. But consensus is elusive on the meaning of the terms, and they lack credibility among veterans, servicemembers and competing institutions. Recently, the federal government and private entities have established regulations and guidelines that help clarify what constitutes a military-friendly or veteran-friendly college or university.

The terms military-friendly and veteran-friendly to describe a higher education institution (HEI) likely gained mainstream attention after the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009. However, before the rollout of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, HEIs recognized the growing student servicemember population — mostly using military tuition assistance — as the military force increased in size to accommodate engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2008, at the Council of College and Military Educators’ annual meeting, then-voluntary education chief for the Coast Guard, Robert Bothel, challenged higher education officials to make “military-friendly” more than a slogan.[1] It may be the first modern account of a credible figure not only elevating the term military-friendly, but also providing thoughts around its definition.

The first academic publication devoted exclusively to the topic, “Creating a Veteran-Friendly Campus: Strategies for Transition and Success,” was published in the summer just before the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s rollout.[2] Around this time, media began to survey HEIs to gauge their level of support for veteran and military students. These surveys yielded lists that ranked the institutions according to their support of these students. Subsequently, some higher education groups published best practices guides to provide institutions with ways to support veterans and servicemembers on campus.

The federal government, while not explicitly having labeled their initiatives veteran-friendly or military-friendly, plays a key role in the evolution of the terms. In 2011, the Department of Defense published a memorandum of understanding for institutions to sign to be eligible to enroll servicemembers and accept military education benefits. The following year, President Obama issued Executive Order 13607, known as the Principles of Excellence, aimed at protecting and supporting veterans and servicemembers enrolled in postsecondary programs.

A recent review of media, higher education best practices guides and government guidelines and regulations shows that various initiatives have contributed to the current understanding of what constitutes a military-friendly or veteran-friendly institution.

To read the full white paper, “Defining Military-Friendly and Veteran-Friendly: Clarifying Ill-Defined Terms,” please click here.

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[1] Doug Lederman, “What Makes a College ‘Military Friendly’?” Inside Higher Ed, February 22, 2008. Accessed at

[2] Robert Ackerman and David DiRamio, ed., Creating a Veteran-Friendly Campus: Strategies for Transition and Success, no. 126 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009).

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Readers Comments

Ian Richardson 2014/07/08 at 2:38 pm

It’s a promising development that practitioners and students alike are paying attention to the terms “military friendly” and “veteran friendly” and assessing whether they’re being properly used. I would like to see as much focus on other terms, such as “adult friendly.” I often see institutions describe themselves as “friendly” toward many types of students, but it’s important that their policies line up before they claim those titles.

Tawna Regehr 2014/07/08 at 8:21 pm

Interesting to see the evolution of the terms “military friendly” and “veteran friendly.” It’s true that they were misused in the past, nothing more than a marketing gimmick to attract enrollment dollars. What we’re now seeing develop are communities of practice, where ideas are shared for serving military and veteran students. This also helps schools to self-regulate and determine whether their policies and supports are actually targeting their intended audience before deeming themselves “military friendly” or “veteran friendly.”

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