Today’s veterans are some of the most deserving students: They have earned their education benefits by serving our country. A 2011 study from the National Center for Education Services found that 59.6 percent of veteran students have used their VA education benefits at public institutions. In order to create an environment that encourages the success of student veterans, schools must plan how to accommodate them and demonstrate genuine interest in their well-being.
On average, the student veteran population accounts for about 5 percent of a university’s population. Fifty-six percent of student veterans are older than the “traditional” college age range of 18 to 23, and 47 percent of student veterans either have children or are married. Because veteran students have some traits unique from those of traditional college students, they sometimes need additional resources. In addition to differences that can be related to age, such as having established families or full-time jobs, some veterans have mental health considerations like depression or PTSD to contend with while attending school. Many veterans have reported feeling isolated from the rest of the student body, who have not shared similar experiences.
The establishment of a veterans resource center (VRC), which provides services that support student veterans, is a growing trend among colleges and universities. Since it effectively acts as a place for veterans to meet each other, a VRC can do the following:
- Provide additional support for transitioning veterans;
- Support a community of veterans through activities, study groups, outings and workshops;
- Act as a meeting place for a school’s chapter of Student Veterans of America (SVA); and
- Act as a clearinghouse for resources and information relevant to veterans, including VA and GI Bill benefit resources, the schedules of visiting VA representatives, mental health resources or part-time counselor hours.
Steve Rellinger, director of Central Michigan University’s VRC, said, “A veterans resource center is an absolute must for any institution for many reasons: point of contact, networking with other vets, outreach/education, etc. It’s the least we as institutions can do, based on the fact that a veteran is someone who at one point in his or her life wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America,’ for an amount of ‘up to and including his or her life.’ The only question is regarding the actual size of the center and this depends entirely on the resources of each institution.”
In addition to enriching campus culture and the lives of veteran students, investing in a VRC may also benefit a school’s community. Representatives from Central Michigan, California State University at Northridge, Next Great Generation, and Kognito Interactive spoke at a webinar presentation in early April about the tangible benefits that VRCs provide to institutions and surrounding community. They estimated the total payoff to the institution was $9.5 million over the course of five years. They also estimated that in that time, 26 suicides would be prevented, 640 suicides would have never been attempted, and 289 children’s lives would not be affected by the profound negative impacts of veteran suicides.
With so many states facing cuts to their education budgets, schools must consider the financial feasibility of establishing a VRC. Some administrators may perceive a VRC as “nice to have” but unaffordable. However, the estimated gain from active recruiting of veteran students far exceeds the costs of the veteran resource center. A VRC will effectively pay for itself; by fostering a supportive community for veterans, more veterans will consider attending that school.
Other ways schools can support veterans are to train counselors, staff, faculty and other students on specific veteran issues, include a veteran student lounge in the VRC where activities and friendly competitions can be held, and promote student clubs like the SVA. Vet-to-vet mentoring programs have also been reported as helpful. ♦
Alexander Miscione serves as the veterans chair on the American Council of Military Education Region 1, and has represented Coastline Community College at various military installations in San Diego.
- Issue: 7
- Volume: 8