Lumina Foundation features two colleges for their work serving student veterans; America needs more vets with degrees to meet attainment needs
INDIANAPOLIS – Millions of men and women in uniform have returned or will soon return home; for many of them, college is the new front. Unfortunately, the transition from combat to the classroom can be challenging, and that’s why several universities are responding with programs and services geared toward better serving student veterans. Advocates for student veterans say Rutgers University and the University of Arizona are doing exceptional work in this regard, and both institutions are featured in the latest issue of Lumina Foundation Focus magazine.
At the University of Arizona, the four-year graduation rate is more than 50 percent for student veterans, compared to 40 percent for the general population. And at Rutgers, the enrollment of veterans has surged. In 2010, Rutgers knew of 446 veterans on campus. Today, the New Jersey-based university supports more than 2,000 men and women who have served in the military.
“Returning veterans need strong allies on college campuses, and these two institutions have answered the call,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina Foundation. “These students are, in many ways, the most nontraditional of nontraditional students. These soldier/scholars are set apart from their college peers – by age, by life experience, by envelopment in the military culture, and all too often by a close-up view of war. Colleges and universities simply can’t conduct business as usual and expect to properly serve these students.”
According to various experts, one critical aspect of creating a veteran-friendly campus is having a place where student veterans can congregate and gain access to vital resources. Officials at the University of Arizona and Rutgers University have done just that, and the response has been very positive.
“Trust is a big thing for veterans,” said Cody Nicholls, the University of Arizona’s assistant dean for Veterans Education and Transition Services (VETS). “Our center for veterans provides a place where students can make connections with men and women they can trust because they have walked in the same boots. We opened our new 3,800-square-foot center in December, and by combining that physical space with the staffing and resources we make available across campus, we’ve created an environment that responds to what these students tell us they need.”
Rutgers University had no student veterans program to speak of in 2010, but the institution has quickly become a model for other universities interested in serving returning vets. One of the key aspects of the program is Veterans House, a three-story structure on campus geared specifically toward creating a community of caring and support for student vets.
“Veterans House serves multiple functions,” said Karen Stubaus, vice president for academic affairs and administration at Rutgers University. “It’s a command center, a place for studying and socializing, and a hub for bringing critical university services to veterans. It’s a place that breaks down the confusion in what can sometimes be the harshness of a large university. The House produces a comfort level and helps student veterans navigate the bureaucracies.”
In addition to the physical spaces, both institutions have programs and services geared specifically toward serving student veterans. From having a veteran services coordinator in the registrar’s office at the University of Arizona to having academic advisors assigned specifically to serving student veterans at Rutgers, these campuses are geared to supporting the specific needs of this important student population.
“The unemployment rate among veterans remains higher than joblessness in the general population, and we must do something to change that,” said Merisotis. “It’s time to put a spotlight on this rapidly growing and increasingly important population of postsecondary students. We have a talent gap across America and it goes beyond economics. This is also about providing access to a greater quality of life and the opportunities that come via education achievement. We certainly owe veterans a good path to a high-quality degree for their service to our country. But we owe it to ourselves, too, because these students have a lot to give back if we can provide them with a higher education experience that unlocks their full potential.”
The current issue of Focus provides a wealth of information on this important topic. The online version offers two additional stories and several interactive features, including audio clips and a photo gallery of student veterans.