Community college faculty, staff, and administrators are aware of the many challenges and issues veterans face when they return to college to pursue their education. These issues can range from emotional and psychological to financial or academic. On many campuses, these students can feel isolated and struggle at finding ways to feel like they are part of the campus community. Those who do feel supported and connected are fortunate to attend a college that has an effective veterans program which can provide support services for veteran students to help overcome some of the challenges these students face and assist them in reaching their academic goals.
The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges has supported veterans returning to college through many publications and resolutions. Most recently, Resolution 20.01 “Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, Veterans and Financial Aid” passed in Spring 2009, asking that the Academic Senate work with local academic senates to promote better awareness of the G.I. Bill and the best strategies for utilizing and maximizing its benefits for veterans pursuing higher education. In responding to this resolution, a great deal of work has been done regarding the G.I. bill and financial aid. In expanding this effort, this article focuses more specifically on the impact and benefits a veterans program can have on the success of veteran students returning to college in pursuit of an education.
Many successful and effective veterans programs have a common goal of delivering an array of support services for veteran students through educational and career planning, as well as other essential services, referrals, and partnerships with the community. Successful programs can also provide assistance to veterans in helping them obtain the educational benefits available under the Montgomery G.I. Bill. Providing such services can ensure a positive transition back into school and increase veteran students’ success into careers through education. The success of veterans programs is further realized through collaboration with other programs and services on campus and in the community. Such alliances can ensure an effective implementation of a comprehensive array of services and provide veteran students an opportunity to build a sense of community.
Some of the core values effective veterans programs strive to achieve include inclusiveness, removal of stigmas associated with veteran status, respect and appreciation, and camaraderie. Developing ways to include and provide benefits to this often silent group of students is essential. Efforts to destigmatize the use of available programs and services for veterans are also crucial in helping these students develop adaptive and productive attitudes and behaviors that will promote success in college. The most powerful communication a college can send is that it values veterans, a communication that can be achieved through demonstrations of respect and appreciation. Furthermore, programs that include numerous formal and informal ways for veterans to find each other and connect are immensely important. Such activities are of even greater value when they are integrated within traditional college activities and courses.
In addition to these core values, other aspects of effective and successful veterans programs that colleges might consider, whether in the initial stages of developing a veterans program or expanding their program and services, include the following:
- commitment to assisting veterans from the moment they begin their studies through their graduation.
- available veterans outreach aides who can guide veterans from the start, even prior to their discharge.
- counselors who are proficient in personal, career, and academic matters.
- dedicated staff who are well-versed in the various benefits veterans may qualify to receive.
- veterans clubs or groups that can provide opportunities for veterans to dialog and connect with other veterans.
- specific academic courses that assist with transitioning from combat warriors into the college and civilian community.
- health care professionals that can assist veterans with their health care needs.
- transfer center personal who can assist veterans seeking to continue their education at a four-year university.
In the paper “Community College Support and Engagement of Servicemembers, Veterans, and Military Families,” which was presented at the 2010 Whitehouse Summit on Community Colleges, Kathy McMurtry Snead and Andrea Baridon discuss, in greater detail than presented here, effective strategies that veterans program could build upon and provide in meeting the needs of veteran students:
- Provide a single point-of-contact or “one-stop shop” for information about campus resources.
- Raise awareness and knowledge among faculty and staff regarding issues facing veterans and their families.
- Promote and establish collaborations to enhance campus involvement between academia and student veterans organizations and other military family supports.
- Promote reintegration programs for families and act as a conduit to family assistance centers and on-campus veterans’ centers.
- Institute flexible academic programming, scheduling, and availability of student services to meet these students’ needs.
- Provide on-campus housing for families of veterans experiencing various disabilities that may place a student veterans at risk.
- Identify and track veterans and their families to monitor progress and facilitate targeted communication.
This list is not intended to suggest that all of these services must be in place for a veterans program to be effective and successful. In the current economic climate, not all colleges will be able to implement all of these services. This list simply provides strategies that have been identified by various individuals as valuable in easing the transition of veterans and their families back into college.
The implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill in August 2009 significantly reduced a major financial barrier to veterans returning to college, and current funding levels of military tuition assistance and/or veterans’ education benefits make college enrollment affordable for the overwhelming majority of military students. However, these financial opportunities and benefits are only one part of the picture. Without effective programs and services to assist veterans in overcoming many of the obstacles and challenges these students encounter, many veteran students fail to reach their academic goals.
Snead, K. & Baridon, A. (2010). Community college support and engagement of service members, veterans, and military families. Unpublished paper presented at The Whitehouse Summit on Community Colleges, Washington, D.C. (www.ed.gov/college-completion/community-college-summit)