Published on 2014/02/07

Serving Those who Serve: Improving Higher Education for Military and Veteran Students

Serving Those who Serve: Improving Higher Education for Military and Veteran Students
Veteran and military students contribute greatly to their postsecondary communities, and institutions need to take steps to ensure these students are well-served.
People who have served or are serving in the American military are recognized for their acknowledged dedication to our country. As such, they deserve no less when they walk through our doors to pursue a postsecondary education. As college administrators and faculty, it is our responsibility to make their journey toward degree completion as smooth as possible. How can we ensure the best experience for these folks?

Easing the Transition

Many military and veteran students have made frequent moves and/or experienced multiple deployments which have disrupted their academic progress, not to mention their entire lives. This, however, has also given them a rich experience living abroad among other cultures and has likely increased their ability to adapt to new situations. Campuses must have frequent and practical training programs for staff on how to be sensitive to the unique needs of this population and be able to provide information on existing campus and/or local community resources available to create a positive and welcoming environment for them.

Military and veteran students’ experiences can enhance the diversity at your institution, but sensitivity to their emotional and social well-being is critical. They may have first-hand experience with dangerous military operations that sets them apart — and potentially isolates them — from fellow students who do not have personal direct knowledge of warfare. Campus personnel must be able to detect and address issues in and outside the classroom that could interfere with students’ academic success.

Academic Policies

Military students bring a deep belief in honor, accountability and responsibility to the table. As such, they expect honesty and clarity in dealing with campus personnel. If possible, establish a single point of contact within each administrative office to serve as the “military student/veteran specialist.” All conversations with a military/veteran student must be transparent, from discussing accreditation to transferability of credit. Streamlining the academic processes and procedures for them is a great first step. For example, it is likely that military/veteran students have credits from several different institutions, and developing an easy transfer credit evaluation process with a quicker turnaround results in less frustration for the student. In addition, providing a thorough — and individualized, if possible — orientation to the institution when a military/veteran student first matriculates is one way to increase his or her confidence and ease the stress of this new endeavor.

Institute flexible military student-friendly academic policies related to dropping courses and withdrawal, incomplete courses and readmission. With a higher incidence of mobility, this population stops and starts class sessions more frequently than other adult students. For that reason, colleges should allow for extended time frames to complete degrees, especially at the graduate level. Offer many class options, including in-seat and online delivery venues, as well as directed or individual study courses which fit the military student’s lifestyle and schedule. Establish early intervention strategies that target military and veteran students experiencing academic difficulty — a network of faculty, staff and administrators that reach out with aggressive, intrusive academic assistance can increase persistence to degree.

Financial Assistance

Military and veteran students may know they receive funding through the GI Bill, but may be at a loss as to how they can apply for it. Campus experts must be well-versed in all chapters of military aid as well as the other non-military funding options available. Advising these students on their financing options is vital to their ultimate success. Transparency is crucial here, too; financial aid advisors must clearly and completely explain all tuition charges and other fees that may be imposed.

Seeking Feedback

Most importantly, staff, faculty and administrators must treat military and veteran students with respect and patience. Actively listening to their needs (which is something we should do with all students) will give us the insight into how we can best serve this growing population on our campuses.

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Readers Comments

Tyrese Banner 2014/02/07 at 10:24 am

Good points about the ways we could be better serving military students. As is usually the case, when we focus on the most underserved students, we end up improving the experiences of all.

Simon Pickering 2014/02/10 at 1:21 pm

Navigating the financial aid system can be extremely difficult for military/veteran students. I know because I worked in a financial aid office, mainly with this population, for five years. There is quite a bit of financial assistance available, but the process for how to identify and obtain it is hardly intuitive.

On an institutional level, staff should be trained to help military/veteran students specifically. This means they should be aware of the aid available to this group, as well as how to navigate the application process quickly and efficiently. On a broader level, those of us ‘front-line staff’ should be more vocal about the challenges this student population faces and push the government to better streamline their processes for accessing aid.

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