For retired military personnel, higher education is often a pathway to return to civilian life, but many wonder if there are resources for veterans enrolled in college. These individuals bring a host of communication and collaboration-oriented skills to their new endeavors, but they also face unique challenges. Several decades ago, the answer might have been different. However, today, nearly all college and university campuses devote resources to assisting these individuals. The article below explores the types of program support available as well as the ways in which individual strengths are utilized to build a successful academic career for the veteran student.
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In the first decades of the 21st century, American academia experienced a surge in veteran attendance. The Association of American Colleges and Universities noted that while the post-9/11 GI Bill has a great deal to do with accessibility, allowing more veterans to pursue a degree program, paying for courses is only one type of support. Academia was and is ready to support these students—numbering in the millions—but that requires addressing specific challenges and designing programs to meet the needs of these students.
According to a 2016 report by EAB, an education consulting company, veteran service members tend to stand out regarding demographics. They are usually at least a few years older than most first-year students, have a more extensive array of experience, which can include living abroad and interacting with people of different cultures. They also have experience in a team-oriented environment, which can enable them to take on responsibilities of student mentorship or support, but it can also make them reticent about standing out or being singled out.
This aversion to exception also means that veterans are less likely to reach out for help if they experience symptoms of PTSD or depression, which often assails those who have completed multiple tours of duty before retirement from service. This is a significant challenge that support offices must be prepared to address. Whether the campus is staffed with a single support specialist and utilizes volunteer effort or has an all-singing, all-dancing veteran resources program, they must be trained to recognize early signs of a problem and offer appropriate, timely help.
Everyone on Board
While the post-9/11 GI Bill did a great deal to make higher education affordable and accessible to veterans, it's just policy. People are responsible for making everything work as it should when it comes to admissions. One of the most prominent hurdles veterans face is in regard to paperwork and aligning new policy with two systems that don't always communicate well with each other—academia and the military.
Resources for veterans enrolled in college can and should include specific help with advisement and financial aid paperwork. While the Bill made funds available, hoops to be leaped through and boxes to be checked abound. And while the vast majority of veterans are equal to most challenges, this can be a frustrating and sometimes frightening process.
Another way universities support veterans is by making resources available for professors. Through outreach and information dissemination, colleges are helping veterans by making sure professors of all subjects are prepared to offer resources and recognize the needs of these unique students. Because, while they bring many gifts of communication, problem-solving, and teamwork with them, retired service personnel do need time to adjust, to find or create a campus community, and rebuild their sense of identity. Teachers, administrators, and even office personnel can assist by providing tailored resources for veterans enrolled in college.