APSCU Report Highlights Best Practices for Serving Veterans

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by Maria Eugenia Miranda

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities released a report this week, Best Practices for Military and Veteran Students, highlighting guidelines for serving military and veteran students to ensure their success.

“These recommendations will help improve accountability among institutions of higher learning, and as a result, benefit prospective military and veteran students seeking the training and skills necessary to succeed in the civilian workforce,” said former Congressman Steve Gunderson, the president and chief executive officer of the APSCU, encouraging all private-sector schools to adopt the recommendations in the study.

A group of for-profit institution leaders and military program directors called the Blue Ribbon Taskforce identified, discussed and documented the most effective postsecondary education practices for this very unique demographic group of students, which is composed of more than 325,000 men and women at private sector schools, for the study.

“Private-sector colleges primarily serve nontraditional students, which veterans fall under that category,” said Michael Dakduk, who served as a special adviser for the study and is the executive director of the organization Student Veterans of America. “It’s an important response from the APSCU, because the spotlight is on the for-profit sector when it comes to educating veterans.”

The report addresses recruitment and enrollment, institutional commitment for student affairs support, ensuring military student success and establishing guidelines to track success, among other things. “It’s fairly comprehensive,” noted Dakduk.

Making it clear to military students the cost of programs and providing easy access to financial information is the first tenant presented in the guidelines. Handling enrollment and financial aid can be daunting, he said, because “not only do student veterans have to navigate the bureaucracy that all students have to navigate, which is a college or university campus, they also have to navigate the bureaucracy of the federal government, otherwise known as the Department of Veterans Affairs, specifically, to get their GI benefits.”

A few things schools can do to help are: offer a tailored orientation program for this contingent of the student body; offer information on potential earnings and employment pathways on degree programs; be clear about credit transfer policies; explain Department of Defense tuition assistance and VA education benefits; and go over student loan obligations thoroughly. “Providing financial information upfront and making sure institutions are transparent about the cost of their university is important,” said Dakduk.

Once enrolled, military and veteran students need extra guidance.

“While the traditional student may be making the transition from mom and dad’s house to the college campus, a military veteran is making the transition from the armed forces, and oftentimes from one or more combat deployments. They are older. They may have a spouse. They may also be holding a part-time or full-time job,” he said. Assessing academic readiness prior to enrollment gets military students off on the right foot, according to the report, and then offering remediation and limited course loads will provide an adjustment period. Penalty free drop/add periods can offer a buffer, too.

Institutional support can be done in many different ways, according to the study. Appointing a senior-level administrator to lead a school’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, and designating a staffer to provide student services is key in committing to military student support. Regular roundtable discussion and focus groups can also establish a continuous dialogue to understand needs. Faculty training on working with military students is also critical. “Even though they fall under nontraditional students, there are other unique things about them,” said Dakduk, noting that professors should work to understand military learners.

Schools can also embrace military students’ skills by adopting a policy for evaluating and awarding credit for military training experiences. Featuring a variety of curricula that address the needs of different learning styles is also noted in the report. While many schools have been strapped for funds since the recession of the 2000s, offering reduced tuition rates for active-duty military, National Guard and Reserve service members to minimize costs for students can be a huge boost.

Lastly, the Blue Ribbon Taskforce underscored the importance of identifying and tracking military student populations. “I think it’s absolutely critical moving forward that all colleges and universities need to be tracking military veterans and their persistence and graduation and their post-graduation success,” said Dakduk. This data can then be used to develop new measures and identify program effectiveness.

“What’s important is that all institutions need to step up to support military veterans,” he said. “it doesn’t matter if it’s a for-profit school or a nonprofit school.”

The complete version of Best Practices for Military and Veteran Students by the APSCU can be found at www.apscu.org/blueribbon.

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