Colleges are preparing for an influx of student veterans, but how prepared are they? A new report  from a group of five higher education associations, "From Soldier to Student: Easing the Transition of Service Members on Campus," represents, the authors write, the first attempt to assess the current state of programs and services nationally.
A new, much-expanded Post-9/11 GI Bill goes into effect August 1 (less than two weeks from now). In anticipation, many colleges have been stepping up their outreach to and support for veterans  -- creating veterans' offices, training faculty and staff on challenges unique to student veterans, creating specialized orientation programs, expanding counseling center capacity, and, perhaps most significantly, putting extra money into institutional aid for veterans by joining the Yellow Ribbon program . The new report attaches numbers to the anecdotes.
A total of 723 institutions responded to the survey, out of 2,582, for a 28 percent response rate. Broken down by sector, 25 percent of respondents are public two-year institutions, 15 percent public four-year colleges, 36 percent private non-profit, and 23 percent for-profit. Among the findings, 57 percent of institutions said they currently provide programs and services specifically designed for service members or veterans. The report's conclusion notes a number of areas where colleges are meeting the needs of veterans, and also areas where they're not.
Where colleges are doing well, the report notes, is in recognizing prior military experience -- of those colleges that offer specialized programs for veterans and service members, 81 and 64 percent, respectively, award credit for military training and military occupational training. Also among those colleges that offer specialized services to veterans, 85 percent have counseling centers that coordinate with and refer students to off-campus facilities when needed, 79 percent have policies for refunding tuition in the case of military activations and deployments, and, financially speaking, 82 percent provide education benefits counseling.
But colleges have much more work to do in the following areas, the report notes:
- Assisting in the transition to college. Just 22 percent of colleges with services for veterans provide such assistance.
- Offering professional development to faculty and staff, on transition issues and issues specific to students with brain injuries and other disabilities.
- Easing the path to re-enrollment for service members once they return from deployments. Again, just 22 percent of colleges with services for veterans have an expedited re-enrollment process in place (16 percent even require veterans to reapply and be readmitted to re-enroll!).
- Helping veterans connect with other veterans. Just 32 percent of colleges with services for veterans have a club (although that might be changing, given the rapid growth in Student Veterans of America chapters ).
The five higher education associations that released the report are the American Council on Education, the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, NASPA -- Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and the National Association of Veterans' Program Administrators. The report is not intended to suggest, the authors note, "that creating special programs for student veterans is always necessary or even desirable. During ACE's 2008 summit 'Serving Those Who Serve : Higher Education and America's Veterans,' some student veterans stated that they preferred, whenever possible, to be integrated into mainstream campus life. They also expressed high regard for opportunities to interact with fellow student veterans and have access to campus staff who are trained and sensitized to the unique issues veterans face."