July | August 2017


By Pam Goins, CSG Director of Education Policy
Making the transition between military service and civilian life can be a difficult challenge for service members. Many find themselves without a job or the means to support a family without returning to school to further their knowledge and skills. But making the move from a battlefield to a college campus can be a difficult, isolating experience for student veterans.
“The biggest challenge is the military/civilian cultural divide,” said Dawn McDaniel, a member of CSG’s Subcommittee on Veterans’ Concerns and president of Bravo/Delta Consulting, a firm that advises companies on how to help veterans assimilate. “Leaders and lawmakers must first fully understand the military culture before pathways can be identified and effective.”
According to the American Council on Education, more than 5 million post-9/11 service members are expected to transition out of the military by 2020. In its 2014 report, “Higher Ed Spotlight: Undergraduate Student Veterans,” the council found 4 percent of all undergraduates were student veterans, but that number is surging. Since the enactment of the post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008, more than $42 billion has been spent on educational services for veterans.
The University of Arizona saw a need to increase its services for student veterans and opened the Veterans Education and Transition Services Center, or VETS Center, in 2008. The center recorded a 31 percent increase in numbers of students accessing services from fall 2012 to fall 2013, when more than 10,000 recorded visits by student veterans occurred during that academic year.
The university opened a second VETS Center in 2014 at the Arizona Health Sciences Center. The first of its kind in the nation to open within a health sciences center, the center offers support for veterans who are pursuing careers in health care fields.
"The VETS Centers offer individualized service to improve the experience of all veterans attending the University of Arizona," said Melissa Vito, senior vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, and vice provost for academic initiatives and student success. Vito was testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs' Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity in May 2014.
"We provide a step-by-step 'in-processing' or 'on-boarding' guidance for student veterans who are applying or have been recently admitted to the institution,” she said.
The University of Arizona also houses the Disability Resource Center, which provides transitional resources to student veterans. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education provided the university with a congressionally directed grant to identify challenges to successful higher education experiences for student veterans with disabilities and support campus-based services to overcome those barriers. Vito said receiving that federal grant allowed the university to emerge as "a leader for disabled veterans in higher education, producing research-based best practices for use on college campuses."
To increase engagement with the traditional student population, the university received a grant in 2012 from the Paralyzed Veterans of America to design an adaptive athletics and college learning camp for student veterans with spinal cord injuries. Due to the success of the grant, UA received a second grant in 2014 to develop an education and wellness camp to increase access to and success in higher education for student veterans with physical disabilities.
Arizona also offers transitional courses to assist student veterans. The Supportive Education for Returning Veterans program is a set of three general education courses designed to ease the oftentimes-difficult transition from life in the armed forces to life on a college campus. The courses are compatible with the GI Bill and the curriculum helps ease the transition into college life and integrates military knowledge, skills and experiences into student veterans’ college programs. Courses teach resiliency and stress management, effective learning strategies for college courses and leadership to prepare student veterans for success.
“Each service member brings with them a unique military experience,” said Jan Del Signore, associate vice chancellor of military affairs for Florida-based Keiser University and board member of the National Association of Veteran Program Administrators, or NAVPA. “Supporting (student) veterans will help the student reach their academic goal of graduation, helping with their transition back to the civilian sector.” NAVPA members include campus- and community-based administrators who implement Veterans Education Assistance Programs focused on education and opportunities for veterans.
As part of CSG’s State Pathways to Prosperity initiative, the CSG National Task Force on Workforce Development and Education developed state policy options to assist student veterans with degree completion. Those suggestions include:
These and other policy options are highlighted in a soon-to-be published report by the task force, “A Framework for State Policymakers: Developing Pathways to Ensure a Skilled Workforce for State Prosperity.” The framework also will offer policymakers opportunities to advance success in advocacy, identification of veterans, un- and under-employment, entrepreneurship and challenges related to housing during transitions to civilian life.
“The subcommittee was passionate about veterans and took a comprehensive look at veteran and military family challenges and transition concerns,” McDaniel said. “As a result, I feel we have provided sound policy recommendations that will benefit both veteran/service members and states alike.”