Redoubling our commitment to veteran student success
The number of student veterans on college campuses is growing. As more veterans look to continue their education after service to our nation, it’s critically important for colleges and universities to help veterans re-enter civilian life, adapt to the academic environment, and achieve the goal of earning a higher education.
Veterans face many challenges while transitioning back into civilian life. Some veterans find that the jobs they want are not attainable without a college degree, feel overwhelmed by large college campuses and class sizes, or can’t relate to students who may be younger, less disciplined and ill-equipped to relate to the experiences of veterans.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that 62 percent of student veterans are first-generation college students. A common challenge for first-generation students is missing a support system that can help them navigate their college experience. So not only are our veteran students faced with readjusting to civilian life, but they are also doing it “alone.”
Last year, we had 43 undergraduate and 19 graduate veterans enrolled in our academic programs at Felician University, a Catholic Franciscan university in New Jersey. Our institution has been recognized as a Military Friendly institution for eight consecutive years for our steadfast dedication in helping our veteran students with their transition from military to academic life. We are particularly proud of this recognition, as it is one shared by less than 20% of higher education institutions nationwide.
Every university is working in some way to eliminate barriers for our veteran students. At Felician University, we’re proud of our efforts to address these barriers from multiple perspectives. Over the years we’ve changed our approach, paid attention to our learning environments, and adapted our curriculum to better fit the needs of our veteran students both emotionally and academically.
There are three main ways we can increase our support: financial, academics and social.
Historically, most schools have had only one person, at most, dedicated to veteran services. As the number of enrolled veterans continue to grow at our campus, so does the support staff at Felician. The University now has an entire department available to student veterans. Each veteran is connected to a veteran liaison that works on their behalf for the entire time they attend Felician, and an employee from each administrative department such as Student Financial Service and the Registrar, and their own personal veteran student benefits specialist.
According to Mentalhealth.va.gov, “In 2009, there were approximately 500,000 Student Veterans receiving education benefits. In 2013, over 1,000,000 student Veterans are using their GI benefits to pursue advanced educational opportunities and this number is estimated to increase by 20% in the next few years.” To compliment these benefits, Felician University offers dedicated financial benefits to veterans and their families, accepts American Council Education (ACE) Military Transcripts, and will transfer up to 90 credits depending on the course of study. Felician is also a fully participating Yellow Ribbon Institution, offering the maximum contribution rate of 50% with a matching contribution from the VA – and no limit to the number of veterans who can attend under the program. The University is also a proud member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium.
Earlier I mentioned that one of the challenges veteran students face is that they don’t feel connected to their classmates. Our solution was to create a Veteran’s lounge for our active military and veteran students that is fully equipped with all of the amenities of home, including kitchen, study areas, recreational/game space, and a relaxation space where we hold meetings from outside organizations that are connected to our veteran community.
The Veterans Club at Felician participates in 5K runs/walks, community events, veteran specific internships, veteran job fairs, VA workshops, on campus veteran events and a special Veterans Day ceremony, including marching in the New York City Veterans Day Parade and the local American Legion Memorial Day Parade.
Our veterans bring many unique strengths to our university community that we strive to nurture and promote every day on campus. Showing we care by reducing barriers and creating opportunities helps our veteran students achieve success in the classroom as well as in their civilian life. This Veterans Day, let’s not only remember what our veterans have done for this country but redouble our commitment and effort to help them excel in their futures as well.
Diane Sedlmeir is the associate director of enrollment management and military enrollment coordinator at Felician University. Since joining the University in 2008, Diane has worked with hundreds of veterans and their families to achieve the goals of a higher education.