Top Five Ways Your College Can Support Veterans

February 14, 2022 Watermark Insights

Around the country, Americans are preparing to honor the men and women who have served our country in the military. Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day, originated on November 11, 1919, on the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Armistice Day became a national holiday in 1938, and in 1954 then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of the holiday to Veteran’s Day, honoring those who served in the U.S. military during times of war or peace. It is a day of reflection, celebration, and gratitude to the people who have so bravely defended our country’s freedoms.

This year, as we take the time once again to honor the men and women who have served our country, it’s important to remember that honoring our country’s bravest means supporting them in their endeavors once they retire from their military careers.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are currently about 19 million U.S. veterans. As veterans transition out of active military duty, they often seek a variety of ways to succeed outside of the military setting. Many veterans take advantage of the military’s GI Bill, a veteran benefit that, since 1944, has helped veterans fund college, graduate, or training school. Many veterans begin their academic careers at the college level.

While choosing the path of a higher education degree seems to be a sound decision for preparing veterans for success outside of the military, many vets are intimidated by the world of higher education. Veterans find the lack of tools and support offered at higher education institutions to be challenging, leading many vets to drop out of college.

There are ways, however, that higher education institutions can robustly support their veteran population so as to help attain a higher rate of academic achievement and success from these students.

Here are the top 5 ways that colleges can support their veteran student population:

1) Transition Teams

Many veterans have been out of the academic setting for quite some time. They may have difficulty concentrating, adjusting to new roles, and may feel alienated from younger students. Veteran students who work with military transition teams at the college have the opportunity to feel more connected to the campus community and what it has to offer.

Keith Glindemann, Senior Director of Military and Veterans Services at Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri, finds that helping transition veterans into the academic environment can happen in many ways. “The college has a Military Transition Team that consists of staff members in various roles at the college who have also received enhanced training on assisting our veteran students. In addition, the college has a Veterans Services Advisory Committee that looks at not only how we are supporting our veteran students today, but plans for their needs for the future.” Glindemann also stated that “Columbia College continues to develop veteran-friendly policies that support the student’s journey. In fact, several staff members in key positions and senior leaders at the college are veterans. This helps provide keen insight into what the veteran student needs.”

2) Predictive Analytics and Engagement Software

Oftentimes higher education institutions have difficulty identifying students that may be at-risk or struggling with challenges both inside and outside of the classroom. Predictive analytic software, such as Watermark Student Success & Engagement (formerly Aviso Predict), allows colleges to accurately measure and determine why students may be struggling and, most importantly, if they are at risk of not completing their courses and persisting to the next term. Engagement software, such as Watermark Student Success & Engagement (formerly Aviso Engage), can then give academic support staff an easy way to reach out to at-risk veteran students, identify the issues that may prevent them from succeeding, and help develop strategies to address those issues.

Columbia College, after collaborating with Watermark (formerly Aviso Retention) and implementing engagement strategies, was able to proactively identify and provide proper support for their veteran students -- which helped them to achieve 83% course completion and 94% credit completion for veteran and military students.

3) Success Coaching

It is widely accepted that engaged students are more likely to reach academic success. Student Success Coaches are an important way that colleges can support student veterans. By building and nurturing relationships with veteran students, success coaches can help identify issues that the veteran might be facing within and outside of the college setting and offer solutions or connections for how to resolve those issues.

Glindemann highlights how Columbia College’s Veterans Services team works closely with the Student Success team. “We partner on a variety of student retention initiatives that can include directing students to internal and external resources as needed. We also meet with individual students to help mentor them. On one past occasion, the Student Success team came to the Veteran Services team and shared with them that a student was struggling with getting to class, concentrating, and food for sustenance.”

4) Financial Struggles

While GI Bill benefits can bring much-needed tuition support to veteran students, it doesn’t always cover all of the ways in which veterans need financial support while attending college. Higher education institutions that work with veterans to help ease their financial struggles find that those students have a higher chance of academic success.

In giving an example of supporting veteran students through financial challenges, Keith Glindemann recalled one student at Columbia College. “In talking with the student, the main issue was that they had no food and did not know how they would eat until they received their next payment from the VA. We were able to immediately purchase some food for the student and connected him with the local veteran’s shelter that agreed to provide him with additional food if needed. We also connected the student with a counselor at the VA who was able to work with him to address the mental stress he was facing. In the end, the student was able to get the support he needed and continue classes.”

5) Social Inclusion

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “only 15% of student veterans are the traditional age of college students. Most student veterans are ages 24–40.” This can result in veteran students feeling more isolated from their peer student groups. As the VA states, “Student veterans may feel that they do not fit in with other college students, and finding like-minded peers can be difficult. For some veterans, dealing with younger students who may seem to be entitled or less serious about their studies can contribute to a sense of being different from their classmates. Veterans may lose patience with their peers' complaints about the daily hassles of student life.”

Higher education institutions that work to make veteran students feel welcomed and included in the social fabric of the college community are likely to find their veteran students more engaged, both academically and socially.

Columbia College has worked toward social inclusion by creating a space for veteran students to feel welcomed. “We have also created the Brigadier General Charles E. McGee House on our main campus. This houses our Ousley Family Veterans Service Center which assists students, either in person or virtually, no matter which of our locations the student attends. It also hosts the college’s student veteran club, and provides a social space for our military-connected students.”

Student veterans begin their academic careers seeking what all students seek: new opportunities, increased knowledge, and preparation for a successful career outside of the military. Higher education institutions that connect, predict, and engage with veteran students are able to support veterans in ways that help them during their years on campus and far into the future. That brings the spirit of Veterans Day to every day.

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