What does it mean for a college or university to be military friendly or veteran friendly? Michael Dakduk spoke at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and University’s (APSCU) annual conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Dakduk, the vice president of Military and Veteran affairs at the APSCU, focuses on the distinction between military friendliness and veteran friendliness. “Both terms have been used in a complementary fashion," Dakduk said. “But the military student population is different from the veteran student population."
Students that are serving on active duty might have a different path to education than those who are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Whether on active duty or not, these students are likely to have a somewhat different experience with higher education than their non-military classmates. For this reason, many enlisted members and veterans might want to research which institutions provide resources that are military or veteran friendly. This information is becoming more prevalent thanks to raised awareness about issues surrounding education for military service members.
Dakduk attributes the raised awareness of higher education programs geared toward enlisted military personnel and veterans to the press, government initiatives, and higher education groups themselves.
Press coverage of military-friendly education puts many schools that cater to military students on the radar. Reviews published by reputable nationwide news outlets such as U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges for Veterans show the growth of military and veteran friendly programs in schools across the country.
Government’s role in the matter is significant as well. Complying with The Department of Defense’s Memorandum of Understanding is a must for institutions participating in the military tuition assistance program. The regulations go all the way up the executive branch of the government.
A 2012 executive order signed by president Obama known as the Principles of Excellence established the standards for education providers of America’s servicemen and women and their family members. The order states that primary practice for institutions should include educational plans, personalized forms covering total costs of education, accommodation of absenteeism for service requirements, points of contact for academic and financial advising, accreditation of programs, and refund policies in line with federal student financial aid policies.
Many colleges and universities are making strides to better accommodating students coming from a military background by implementing veteran affairs offices or labeling themselves as military or veteran friendly, but Dakduk says there’s still work to be done on this front.
“Faculty and staff training to make sure [they] are culturally aware of some problems veterans might have," Dakduk said.
On top of many of the stresses that many traditional students face — such as school/work/life balance, family, and expenses — student veterans have an added layer.
Jason Burke, the director of Veterans and Military Affairs at Quinnipiac University points to a number of social issues that can be potential challenges for these students including the transitional adjustment period of returning after employment and a sense of alienation due to the drastic change in environment between a military setting on college campuses.
Some students may have to re-learn academic skills and habits due to a less regimented and structured lifestyle. Burke said that stigmatized disabilities such as PTSD and depression can also create difficult, but not impossible hurdles for students.
“Many of the student vets have a certain percentage of service-connected disabilities," Burke said. “It usually does not manifest itself in the classroom. They are pretty self aware and can take most of uncomfortable situations in-stride."
Burke also cited navigating VA (veterans) education benefits — something that isn’t always the easiest thing to do — as an issue that student veterans face.
Michael Dakduk says veterans can be proactive about some of these challenges by taking it upon themselves and using resources such as transition assistance programs and GI bill websites. “What’s important for students is to go to the source," Dakduk said.
There is still work to be done in terms of seamlessly integrated members of the military and veterans into higher education program, but Dakduk says he’s optimistic about what’s to come for those choosing the education track after the armed forces. “I think there are a lot of great things happening," Dakduk said.
If you’d like to read more about military- and veteran-friendliness for higher education, check out Mr. Dakduk’s whitepaper.