On July 1, President Bush signed legislation that will expand the education benefits of the GI Bill for veterans. Reinvigorating the GI Bill to ensure that it will cover the costs of a college education is something we must do -- not only because it is the right thing to do for our veterans, but also because it is the right thing to do for our country.
However, passage of the GI Bill is only part of the solution to the question of how to best serve veterans on our campuses. The higher education community can and must act creatively, comprehensively and responsively to serve those military veterans who come to our campuses. This was the theme of a recent two-day summit, “Serving Those Who Serve: Higher Education and America’s Veterans,” convened by the American Council on Education and hosted by Georgetown University.
For two remarkable days, federal policy makers (including Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii), college and university leaders, members of the military and student veterans engaged in frank discussions about the special needs of veterans attending college.
We learned during these discussions that the challenges are many, but our summit also revealed that a number of colleges and universities are working systemically to meet the comprehensive needs of returning veterans, as also detailed in an article this week on Inside Higher Ed. These initiatives are truly significant, and it is my hope that we can build on them to develop a set of best practices that other institutions can follow.
For example, the University of Arizona has implemented the Veterans’ Education and Transition Services program, a comprehensive array of services that seeks to engage all facets of the community -- on campus and beyond -- in easing the transition from soldier to student. The university has brought together a wide array of campus offices with off-campus partners, including the U.S. Veterans Administration, the American Legion and Vets4Vets, and has formed alliances with other institutions including Pima Community College, Cleveland State University and Cochise College.
Seeking to capitalize on the high rate of success for veteran-owned businesses, the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University has launched the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV). This innovative program provides free training in entrepreneurship to disabled veterans through online and residential coursework and long-term mentoring.
Out of the first class of 20 students, 16 remain actively engaged with the EBV program. Six new businesses have been created, three Small Business Administration loans are pending, one student has been accepted to Syracuse’s law school, and many who do not hold degrees have enrolled in college. Syracuse has moved to replicate the program by forming the EBV Consortium of Schools with UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, and the College of Business at Florida State University.
The University of Idaho combines financial, academic and social support in Operation Education, a scholarship program available to disabled veterans and their spouses. Students benefit from classroom accommodations and tutoring services, housing assistance and family counseling, and up to $8,000 per year in scholarship funds. The university offers its business plan and advice, free of charge, to other institutions that wish to establish Operation Education on their campuses.
Such institutions are in the vanguard of those seeking to provide service to our returning veterans. What we need now is state, regional and national leadership from college and university presidents and policy makers that will exhort campuses and systems to think beyond the Veterans Office to create a holistic approach to serving those who so readily answered the call to serve us. This week’s announcement by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland of the Ohio GI Promise is precisely the kind of initiative that will make a real difference in the success of returning student veterans and their families.
We need to recognize student veterans as a group that merits special consideration across the board. (See related essay for more on this theme.) This means thoughtful inclusion in enrollment activities and creating veterans support teams that are trained to help student veterans with the challenges they face and that can bring to bear resources from a diverse set of offices, including admission and financial assistance, academic and career counseling, veterans resources, housing and disabled student services. It means active support of campus-based student veteran organizations and deferred payment options for students eligible for VA benefits.
This is the work we must do as members of the higher education community. After World War II, the GI Bill helped our nation harness the talents, abilities, leadership skills and experiences of more than 2 million young men -- men who came home to a struggling economy that couldn’t offer them jobs or financial security. In the decade or so after the end of hostilities, the GI Bill was at least in part responsible for the education of 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, as well as for the college education of at least a million other individuals. These veterans returned home to transform the American economy, making it the strongest the world has ever known.
The young men and women leaving our nation’s service today have similar talents, abilities, leadership skills and experiences -- and our nation is facing similar economic challenges. As we welcome an influx of returning soldiers who are eager to take advantage of expanded education benefits for themselves and their families, we must remember that simply getting veterans to campus isn’t enough. We must welcome them, advise them, and assist them in a variety of ways as we undertake the opportunity to educate them. We owe it to our country, and we owe it to the men and women who have endured sacrifices for our sake. The values that form the foundation of American institutions of higher education demand that we step up to this duty, fulfilling our mission and serving our nation.