As the country concludes more than a decade of fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands of recently discharged troops are returning home. Many veterans are faced with the dilemma of what to do upon their return.
In an effort to assist veterans with returning to school, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 Bill) was enacted. This became the most significant increase in education benefits for service members and veterans since the original GI Bill of 1944 that was responsible for the educations of doctors, engineers, businessmen, actors, authors and teachers while offering vocational training to millions more.1 The Post 9-11 GI Bill is designed to provide a similar higher education incentive for the more than 2 million service members who have served in our military forces since September 11, 2001.
The bill also offers assistance in covering tuition and fees for in-state public undergraduate higher education for those veterans who are eligible. Private institutions, graduate education and out-of-state tuition institutions are able to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs where the VA will match institutional contributions to cover added costs.1,2
In December 2012, legislation was passed adding the eligibility for the benefit of 85,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves Troops and further enhanced the applicability of the benefit to vocational training.
Higher education institutions need to know how to address the needs of student veterans returning to school and recognize that they are distinctly different from those of the traditional student. With more veterans enrolling to colleges and universities, higher educational facilities are making the adjustments in their curriculum, community support and communication initiatives to best serve this growing demographic.
Typically, student veterans are considered non-traditional students because they are more likely to be older and many have some college credit that they may have earned while in the military.1,2 Because they are a diverse population with a vast range of experiences, their educational experience will be much different than other non-veteran students. Colleges and universities, including National Louis University, across the country are putting programs and services in place to ease the transition from troop to student.
When choosing the appropriate college or university for their educational goals, Veterans should be aware of important and available resources and programs and that will contribute to their success.
A major frustration voiced by veterans who have returned to school is that the process is overwhelming. It’s a known fact that the military is complex, full of bureaucracy, but this complex navigation is part of the veterans' training from the onset of their military careers. While very complicated, they are taught to understand it.3 This isn’t the case when having to start from the beginning in a collegiate environment.
Higher education institutions, like NLU, that offer specific points of contact within the college or university offices, such as admissions, financial aid, career services, spiritual counseling and academic advising, will make the experience that much easier for Veterans.
By virtue of their backgrounds, student veterans generally do not connect with younger classmates who have not shared their experiences. Colleges and universities that offer veteran-specific classes find that servicemen and women are able to foster these relationships and enhance their educational success
Colleges and universities have developed partnerships to better respond to various student challenges. Those educational institutions also have tapped into other relationships to create integrated and comprehensive programs and services for student veterans and their families. This approach that fully addresses issues, including health care and employment, helps these veterans stay in college and fulfill their educational goals.
Institutions are learning what works and what doesn’t work for veterans. By letting them have a say in policies and procedures, veterans will feel integrated and have a sense of contributing to improving programs and resources. A true sense of belonging makes the transition that much smoother.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill has changed the way benefits are disbursed, causing delayed educational financial assistance to veterans. Instead of adding to this frustrating process, colleges and universities are adopting tuition options as well as for the purchase of books and supplies.
Recognizing that veterans have spent their military career serving their country, National Louis University’s Veterans Program now serves them with a comprehensive array of programs and services. From career development services to financial aid, NLU helps veterans make a smooth transfer from military to academia and to a career in the civilian workplace.
As part of National Louis University’s Veterans Program, the Director of Veteran Student Coordination and his team works with students to identify different support available to them through the University, including key partnerships.
NLU’s Veterans Program is unique because it includes “wrap-around” services to assist student Veterans in their transition back to civilian life and academia. The services are called “wrap-around” because they are not all academically focused but all play a key role in helping veteran students succeed in their studies, and life.
The University has several career resources available to Veterans who are interested in career development, career transition and other programs.
Spiritual resources for those who are seeking additional information are provided at NLU.
For those veterans who may require legal counsel for their specific circumstances, NLU has legal resource referrals.
The University partners with community organizations that specialize in mental health/social service support to veterans, curriculum advising, physical health and academic support to veterans returning to earn their degree.
The chapter at NLU allows veterans to connect with their peers. With frequent meetings and a dedicated Veterans Lounge area, returning to college is easier with the support of this helpful community.
An advisory committee comprised of 20 volunteers, all with a wide variety of military backgrounds, works with the University staff to ensure that the NLU Veteran’s Program offers a comprehensive curriculum focusing on the veterans' needs and unique circumstances.
NLU offers a variety of tuition assistance programs. New for the 2013-2014 academic year is the Yellow Ribbon participation where 100 percent of tuition charges beyond the $19,198.31 will be covered for an unlimited number of veteran students who qualify under the post 9/11 GI Bill requirements.
Active-duty students will receive a 25 percent discount and can be combined with military tuition assistance and federal financial aid to minimize out-of-pocket expenses.
Veteran students not eligible for Yellow Ribbon and dependent children and/or spouses of veterans are given a 15 percent tuition discount at NLU.
NLU is invested in military veterans’ families and extends many financial benefits to veterans’ spouses and dependents.
With the enhancements to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, expanding benefits to service members and previously excluded veterans, colleges and universities will continue to see enrollment numbers increase. These veterans will seek support from these institutions’ administrations, faculty and their fellow student veterans.
The growing amount of government, private and non-profit resources are in place to help negotiate the transition out of military service to civilian life. Higher education institutions can serve this growing population of returning military troops through improving existing campus programs and services that are both veteran-friendly and veteran-specific. Committing to veterans will not only ease the transition process, but also make the educational experience successful as they embark on their careers in the civilian marketplace.