Leading Higher Education Association Launches Veterans’ Initiative - Higher Education
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Leading Higher Education Association Launches Veterans’ Initiative

by Ronald Roach

As U.S. higher education prepares for the expansion of federal benefits for American service members effective Aug. 1, 2009, the Washington, D.C.-based American Council on Education is promoting educational opportunity awareness and helping institutions serve veterans on their campuses.

The initiative, “Serving Those Who Serve: Higher Education and America’s Veterans,” is a multi-year campaign aimed at the more than 2 million service members and their families who will be eligible for benefits under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008.

Says Dr. Molly Corbett Broad, the president of the American Council on Education, “The higher education community is in the unique position to help ease the transition from soldier to student. We must do so in a deliberate way to ensure that returning soldiers who are eager to take advantage of expanded education benefits for themselves and their families are offered every opportunity for success.

ACE will make competitive grants available to veteran-friendly schools. A college planning Web site, an outreach campaign to inform veterans about utilizing education benefits, research-based publications, and regional meetings are also in the works by ACE to facilitate effective use of the new GI Bill benefits.

The initiative is expected to help veterans understand factors that have historically influenced veterans’ decisions about higher education; identify schools that are helping veterans succeed academically and socially; gather credible demographic information about the veteran population; and help colleges and universities administer veterans’ benefits.

“In conversations with veterans, we have heard, time and time again, that their needs are modest but our policy decisions on campus carry significant weight,” Corbett Broad notes.

The Wal-Mart Foundation is donating $2.5 million to create a competitive grant program entitled the ACE/Wal-Mart Success for Veterans Institutional Awards. The grants will reward colleges and universities that conduct exemplary programs pushing access and success in higher education for veterans and their families. Recipient schools will provide technical assistance to other institutions to spread promising practices. Wal-Mart officials plan to award 20 grants of $100,000 each in the spring of 2009, they said.

“Wal-Mart is committed to supporting programs that help our veterans get the resources they need to succeed in their education and their re-adjustment to civilian life,” says Margaret McKenna, the president of the Wal-Mart Foundation.

In addition to Wal-Mart funding, ACE will administer an $800,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education to develop a Web site that allows convenient easy access for veterans to information about their education benefits and opportunities for postsecondary education. Grant money will also pay for a 4,300-institution survey, revealing a broad picture of campus-based support services and programs currently available to veterans.

The Lumina funding will enable ACE to analyze and publish extensive amounts of data compiled by government sources, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Census Bureau, to provide policy makers and academic leaders a wide-ranging demographic portrait of active duty military personnel and veterans.

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