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How can colleges help student veterans?

By Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson

In honor of Veterans Day on Thursday, I plan to blog all week on issues facing student veterans. Last week a survey of thousands of college students found that veterans feel less supported than their peers on college campuses. What can colleges do to help?

When George Washington University graduate student Brian Hawthorne gives college presidents advice on helping student veterans like himself, he always leads with this: Help them graduate faster.

Most veterans do not want to spend four years on a college campus, getting the full undergraduate experience, said Hawthorne, 25, who did two tours in Iraq as an Army Reserve medic. "They want to take 21 credits [a semester] and get out of there."

The issue isn't money, as many veterans are able to cover all of their tuition and fees with the help of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program, in which colleges pick up any extra expenses.

Hawthorne said veterans simply feel more comfortable in the workplace than they do in an undergraduate classroom, surrounded by students who recently graduated from high school and possibly have never been outside of the country. (Here's a 2009 story about issues faced by student veterans in the Washington area.)

Colleges can help by giving student veterans credit for their time overseas, jumping them ahead to their sophomore or junior year, said Hawthorne, who is on the Student Veterans of America board of directors. Officials could also make it easier for veterans to transfer credits from other schools and make campus more veteran-friendly.

Results of the annual National Survey of Student Engagement, conducted by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, found that student veterans feel less supported than their peers. The veterans reported interacting less with their instructors and they were less likely to partake in educational opportunities such as internships or study abroad.

Hawthorne said schools don't have to spend a lot of money to make veterans feel welcome on their campus. Some other ideas...

Be aware of age differences for housing assignments
Hawthorne suggests placing student veterans in upperclassman or graduate student housing instead of a freshman dorm. Adding an age blank to housing applications can help all nontraditional students, not just veterans.

Become GI Bill experts
Administrators should learn the "depth and breadth" of the complicated new GI Bill so that each veteran does not have to do so alone. Officials can also point students to resources they might not know about, such as military medical benefits.

George Washington University now has a full-time staff member and two graduate students who are dedicated to helping veterans navigate campus, he said. The university designated one person in each department to be a point of contact for student veterans. It also has one admissions officer who reads all applications that mention the military, Hawthorne said.

Learn about veteran issues
Increase awareness of the military and veterans by organizing Veterans Day activities or a panel discussion where students and faculty members can ask questions. "The veteran experience is not one that many people know, in general," Hawthorne said.

Don't put veterans on the spot -- but do ask questions
While most veterans want to talk about their experiences, professors should not call upon student veterans to speak on behalf of the entire military during class discussions. At the same time, Hawthorne said some veterans need to be more willing to answer questions and interact with their younger classmates.

And while veterans might not be the most engaged undergraduates, they are usually engaged alums who volunteer their time and donate money, Hawthorne said.

"The best thing you can do for your veteran population is to graduate them," he said. "We are great alums."

Other recent student veteran news from GWU...

* This spring, GWU officials added more funding to its Yellow Ribbon Program. Now veterans receive about a 71 percent discount on full-time graduate tuition and a free undergraduate education. (Press release)

* In June, GWU President Steven Knapp spoke on a panel at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New York City. He said enrolling in college can help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan transition back to civilian life. (Press Release)

* In September, Knapp wrote a column for Inside Higher Ed, explaining why GWU participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and urging more universities to do so. (Op-ed)

* Last year, Hawthorne testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs at the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity's Education Roundtable. (Hatchet article)

What do you think colleges can do to help student veterans succeed and graduate? What is your college doing (or not doing) to help? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment or send me an email, johnsonj@washpost.com.

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all college students. Make sure to bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  | November 8, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  News Overload  | Tags:  George Washington, Student Veterans  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Admissions officers look for coherence (and proper grammar)
Next: New program to offer New Haven public school grads free college tuition

Comments

Another good thing to be aware of is that the predatory practices of frauds and hucksters like Kaplan Higher Education (a wholly-owned for-profit subsidiary of the Washington Post Corporation) continue to target veterans specifically. Here are some specific reports:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-01/kaplan-quest-for-profit-at-taxpayer-expense-ensnares-disabled-u-s-veteran.html

Jenna, I wonder if your editors suggested this series to you? Have they discussed thier financial involvement in harvesting Veterans GI benefits for themselves?

Posted by: mport84 | November 8, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

I do believe that there should be some kind of support for veterans whom decided to go to school after serving our country. Veterans do need some kind of services that helps them cope with the everyday life of a college student after what they have experienced within the forces they've served. I don't believe pushing them ahead to sophomore or junior standings will help benfit them. I feel they should start as a freshmen and work theirselves up like any other student does. There should be some kind of organization within colleges that are just designed for helping veterans become successful college students and civilians.

Posted by: chelle_missl | November 9, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

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