Four models for supporting student veterans on campus

Veterans need additional support from universities and colleges

About 2.5 million service members fought for our country in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. To assist these men and women when they return home and transition back to civilian life, the United States made a substantial investment to ensure that they have access to education. The Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, helps make the pursuit of a full-time college degree affordable for veterans.

According to a report by the Student Veterans of America, the National Student Clearinghouse, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), since the bill’s inception, more than 700,000 veterans and their families have used the benefits. However, between 2002 and 2010, nearly half of veterans who used their educational benefits did not receive a degree or certificate.

Barriers to higher education

With the increasing number of student veterans, colleges and universities face a twofold challenge. First, institutions need to understand the issues facing service members as they transition into higher education, which can include administrative, personal, and financial issues.

Multiple Challenges for Student Veterans

Transition

Study: From Military Service to Student Life

Second, colleges and universities face several internal obstacles in working with student veterans. In some cases, schools lack information about the size of the veteran population on their campuses. Even if the institution has information about the veterans’ needs, limited resources limit opportunities for new or expanded initiatives.

Recognizing the Roadblocks

Enrollment

A roadmap to support veterans

Our research has found a broad spectrum of institutional support services for student veterans ranging from institutions that are in the early stages of becoming “veteran-friendly” to institutions that have invested significant resources in veterans affairs offices and one-stop resource centers.

Learn how to specialize the way you serve special populations

This research identifies institutions that have taken significant steps to invest resources in providing programs and specialized services for student veterans across their academic careers. These programs and services can be categorized into four models.

Model 1: One-person office

For institutions looking to quickly coordinate services for student veterans, the one-person office is the easiest model to implement. The first step is to identify a coordinator for veterans’ support services, who will be the primary contact for programs and resources. In some cases, the person selected as coordinator evolves from the Veterans Administration (VA) certifying official position. This person may work informally with other offices on campus to support veterans, but no formal collaboration or office structure exists.

The location of the veterans' office varies based on institution, but the majority of offices report to either enrollment management or student affairs. The final step in setting up a one-person office is to designate a formal space as the veterans’ service office. Depending on the available resources, this space can range from a desk to a suite of offices to an independent building.

Model 2: One-person office and campus working group

Like Model 1, this structure has a veterans coordinator and an office. However, it also includes a campus working group or advisory committee. This group consists of representatives from different campus offices that interact regularly with student veterans. This group can also include faculty members, students, and other individuals on campus interested in veterans’ issues.

The working group partners with the veterans coordinator to understand the challenges facing student veterans on campus. In particular, group members leverage their expertise in areas, such as admissions and financial aid, to adjust service delivery and policy to accommodate veterans’ needs. These groups meet anywhere from once a week to once a semester depending upon their agenda and the state of veterans’ services on campus.

Model 3: Cross-functional liaison network

Similar to the first two models, the cross-functional liaison network has a central office and dedicated veterans coordinator, but advances veterans’ services one step further. In addition to the central point of contact, designated liaisons in various campus offices are available to directly serve the needs of veterans.

Liaisons are expected to be aware of veterans’ needs and how to best address them in their office. They are typically chosen or self-selected for their personal interest in veterans or status as a veteran. Similar to the working group, the liaison network meets on a regular basis to strategize about veterans’ services and policies across campus.

Model 4: Comprehensive resource center

The comprehensive resource center represents the frontier in supporting veterans on campus. In addition to the coordinator, this model employs additional staff members to provide a greater amount of services for veterans within the central office. This model requires a significant amount of resources and the support of university leaders to acquire the necessary funding.

Rather than relying on volunteer representatives from other offices to work with veterans, staff members in the veterans’ service office become responsible for managing additional support areas, such as recruitment, transitional support, and benefits processing. Similar to other models, the central office coordinates with various offices across campus to tap into existing support programs (e.g., financial aid, counseling & health center, housing, and disability services). By having a centralized and robust set of resources, staff members have more opportunities to build their expertise and explore innovative options for developing new services and programs.

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