Veterans want better support from colleges

Army captain: Non-profit institutions and government agencies need to do more to attract us

In a Q&A for NPR Ed, Eric Westervelt interviews a former Army captain about issues surrounding higher education opportunities for veterans and how colleges and universities can better support those who have served in the military.

Former Army Captain Tim Hsia co-founded the group Service to School, which provides returning veterans transitioning from active duty to higher education with no-cost application and school counseling assistance. Hsia is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Stanford University and has served two infantry combat tours in Iraq.

Hsia addresses several issues affecting veterans entering higher education:

Veterans lack awareness of higher education opportunities available to them

While veterans may lower their expectations when it comes to choice of schools, Hsia notes that many simply are unaware of the opportunities available to them. Many of them are attracted to for-profit institutions because they most aggressively target their demographic. In addition, veterans often lack training or coaching that will help them make the best decision. Not only do nonprofit schools need to do a better job of reaching out to veterans, but the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs also must offer more resources to veterans transitioning to higher education, Hsia says.

"Schools can do more by leaning forward and taking a little bit more risk on student veteran applicants, meaning boosting enrollment and working with organizations in this space like us and Warrior Scholar Project to further attract veterans and educate them that they are veteran friendly," Hsia says.         

For-profit institutions know veterans' pain points

Veterans tend to have a lot on their plate—and applying to college adds yet another element of stress. Hsia notes that most nonprofit schools' admissions cycles are tough for veterans, whereas for-profits allow students to apply year-round.

Hsia argues that nonprofit colleges and universities need to make more of an effort to show veterans that they are welcome and their needs will be met, because in many cases, they can provide a better experience for veterans overall. For example, Hsia notes that veterans often do not receive academic credit for classes taken at for-profits, and degrees obtained at those schools often do not count when applying for competitive graduate programs.

Veterans need role models in higher education

According to Hsia, young officers have numerous role models surrounding them when transitioning to higher education. However, more seasoned service members do not have the same luxury; they are typically the first in their families to apply to college. They need communities, programs, and networks to guide them in the best direction.

Schools and government agencies can be doing more to help veterans

Hsia says that while the military's transition program has historically focused on helping veterans get jobs, it did little to help them utilize their GI Bill benefits for higher education. Military programs going forward need to help veterans determine when to apply, what credentials schools are seeking, and how they can best present themselves in the application process.   

"In terms of the schools, it's outreach and getting them to be as aggressive as for-profit schools are in telling them how good of a program they have," Hsia says (Westervelt, NPR Ed, 1/29).

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