What does it mean to be veteran friendly ?
Sarah E. Minnis, PhD
Each year several publications are released that provide their readers lists of colleges and universities judged to be officially Veteran Friendly by the publication. These annual lists are put out by publications that range from popular media to business media and military-oriented media. Criteria used to rate and rank the schools range from minimal, such as Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) membership along with acceptance of the Concurrent Application, to more in-depth examination of the number and kind of services offered. Some of the lists provide a broad cross-section of schools in their reviews while others focus on a select group of schools, such as online programs, to rank. What is important to remember, with respect to how the lists are developed, is that the criteria, selection methods, and rankings have very little to do with the things veterans in higher education need to help them be most academically and socially successful.
Being veteran friendly entails more than maintaining SOC membership or offering the Yellow Ribbon Program with the Post 9/11 GI Bill. It does not mean a college must have a 1-stop-shop veterans center to attend to all issues impacting veterans in higher education at one location. Agreeing to review military transcripts for applicable academic credit and having a veterans club also do not automatically put a school in the veteran friendly category. While offering these and other functional resources do serve to better support veterans in higher education, setting these criteria as the bar for veteran friendly institutions does a disservice to veterans.
Some veterans use these lists to make serious decisions about where to use their hard-earned education benefits to obtain valuable further education and training to support their next career move after military service. Veterans can rely on the information provided to help them determine where to attend, what services are offered that will support them, and how long they will need to attend to achieve graduation. Of concern, however, is that veterans, themselves, do not know what it means for schools to be veteran friendly and are, therefore, subject to making ineffective decisions based on false information. Without a clear picture of what veteran friendly truly means, veterans can be drawn to educational environments which do not support their retention and persistence to graduation and may lead them to spend valuable benefits on courses of study which do not lead them to viable careers. This has been the case, at many institutions credited with being veteran friendly by being included on one of these lists, which simply turn out to be hollow in their real veteran-friendly environment on their own campus.
Being a veteran friendly school means going beyond the friendly label and fostering an institutional culture which is supportive, appreciative, respectful, embracing, and inclusive of the veterans it educates. Being veteran friendly means doing all of the things previously mentioned here in addition to many more important steps to build a campus climate geared toward supporting veterans holistic success in higher education and engaging veterans in their education and growth toward a new career in civilian life. Following are some of the most important programmatic steps an institution can implement to build a veteran friendly campus climate.
Military Cultural Competency Training
Implement military cultural competency training campus-wide, particularly for those responsible for teaching and advising activities to learn how to effectively educate and make thoughtful referrals of veterans to supportive resources.
Veterans pursue higher education to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to pursue new careers and want to know how their military education will be credited and what they will need to do to reach graduation.
Career Services Outreach Staff Training
Because veterans may not know about or seek career services assistance, informed career service representatives should initiate contact with veterans preemptively so veterans are aware of available resources and how to access them.
Integrated Counseling, Disability Services, and Student Health
Veterans in higher education need information about resources to address mental health, disability, and health challenges unique to their experience in the military necessitating campus resources that can work collaboratively
Financial Aid and Business Services
Financial Aid representatives should be prepared, in line with the President s Executive Order, to fully explain the financial aid options available and true cost of education in addition to helping veteran understand their education benefits.
Veterans need support services that are prepared to address the unique needs they bring to campus. Rather than labels of Veteran Friendly from media outlets based on rankings drawn from only the most basic criteria, institutions of higher education should seek to meet a higher standard of being veteran friendly by seeking to meet veterans holistic needs in education through being veteran helpful, supportive, and inclusive. As we seek to raise veteran graduation rates, it is incumbent upon higher education to provide the resources that will give veterans the best possible chance to succeed academically and socially.
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