Study: U.S. colleges doing more for homecoming veterans but gaps remain

Steve Abel

Thomas Krause, a former Marine sergeant, is now a sophomore at Rutgers University. He credits the school's veterans-support program for keeping him enrolled.

Without the veteran-support hub on his campus, former Marine sergeant Thomas Krause can quickly calculate the odds that he long ago would have dropped out of Rutgers University.

"If this service was not provided for me, there's probably a 1 percent chance I would still be here," said Krause, a pre-business sophomore. He volunteers as well at the Rutgers Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services, which supplies returning service members with academic tutors and advice on how to socially blend into university life. After starting classes last September, Krause walked into the veterans' office two months later and immediately — finally — connected with fellow students. He spoke from that office on Wednesday. 

"Here, I met a bunch of guys who had also served and who were going to school, the same age group, the same mentality," said Krause, 24. "Because I'm in class with 18 year olds, it's a weird transition. So I go out with my friends here, and I currently even live with one of the guys I met here. It's pretty much: This place is my Rutgers life."

Rutgers is often cited by groups that aid college veterans as one of the nation's top schools for helping ease former military personnel into and through the rigors of higher education. 

On Wednesday, a new survey of 690 U.S. colleges was released showing that 62 percent of those schools offer programs and services specifically designed for military service members and veterans — up from 57 percent in 2009, when the same survey was previously conducted. 

The survey, "From Soldier to Student II: Assessing Campus Programs for Veterans and Service Members," was completed via a partnership between the American Council on Education (ACE), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and NAVPA, the National Association of Veteran’s Program Administrators.


Other key findings showed across-the-board improvement since 2009, when the post-9/11 G.I. Bill went into effect, massively boosting available financial aid for homecoming veterans: 

  • Seventy-one percent of institutions that offer programs and services for military and veteran students have a dedicated office serving those students, up from 49 percent in 2009.
  • Eighty-four percent of the institutions that offer services for veteran and military students provide counseling to assist with post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 16 percent in 2009.
  • Fifty-five percent of the institutions that offer services for veteran and military students have staff trained to assist with physical disabilities, up from 33 percent in 2009, and 36 percent have staff trained to assist specifically with brain injuries, up from 23 percent in 2009.
  • Forty-seven percent offer a veteran student lounge or gathering place, up from 12 percent in 2009.

Steven Harriott

Thomas Krause during his days with the U.S. Marine Corps.

“It is very encouraging," said Young M. Kim, a research analyst at the Center for Policy Analysis and one of the study's four authors. 

"But while there are areas of improvement, I don’t think everything we’re sharing today is, by any means, close to indicating that everything is very well off," Kim added. "There are places where there are still gaps.

"One that comes to mind is the transitional issues — veterans coming back from combat theaters really can be (better) helped by faculty and staff members on campus with their transition on campus. And for service members who get redeployed, and that happens quite frequently with a lot of men women, they sometimes struggle with re-enrollment when they come back from military services." 

The authors received survey responses from 262 public four-year colleges, 238 public two-year schools, 164 private not-for-profit four-year schools, but just 26 for-profit schools. A few dozen for-profit colleges were openly chastised earlier this year for hawking their campuses as veteran-friendly yet failing to meet that sales pitch. Returning servicemen and women on the G.I. Bill make attractive enrollment candidates for many schools because their G.I. tuition reimbursement is paid directly from the federal government to the colleges. 

Related: Company accused of deception turns over to Veterans Affairs

"We were somewhat disappointed to get so few responses from for-profit institutions," Kim said. 

At Rutgers, veterans freshly back from Iraq, Afghanistan or other service locales can turn to the military-support office for almost any question they have about launching or maintaining a college career, Krause said. Even better, it allows veterans to mingle with similar people. Another key: that center is run by a former Army officer, retired Col. Stephen G. Abel. 

"They make everything so easy for us. They make everything flow," Krause said. "Any problem we have, they can guide us in the correct manner or they can take care of it themselves." 

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But in collegiate vocabulary a "homecoming veteran" is someone who's gotten drunk more than once at football homecoming events.

    Reply#1 - Wed Jul 25, 2012 7:49 PM EDT

    As a returning veteran who is currently a reservist, I want to let the Jacksonville, Fl veterans know to stay away from Keiser University. I graduated from UNF than went on to Keiser for another degree and was told they were going to drop me less than 3 weeks from graduation because I had to leave for military duty. They put me in a very uncomfortable spot in my unit and left a bad taste in my mouth for money hungry campuses like themselves. Again, please stay away from places like this, I wish I would have made a better judgement call on where to get another degree from and I do not want people to make the same mistake I did.

      Reply#2 - Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:55 PM EDT

      Now people are going to jump all over me for this, but I don't think it is right to give preferences to vets in higher education and employment. If we had a draft, that would be a different matter. But the military service is a job, one which is freely chosen.

      Our country is facing huge financial problems, the main reason of which is our enormous expenditure on war, which include expensive benefits for those who are in the military, paying college costs being one of them. The US spends more on its defense than the rest of the world combined. Cut back on the military and our deficit problems would be manageable.

      In addition, colleges and universities are becoming financially unattainable to so many. If colleges add programs to help veterans, that cost is born by other students the majority of whom graduate with heavy debt burdens. The government covering service-related medical costs of vets is one thing, giving large post-service education grants and tax-breaks is a very different matter.

      • 1 vote
      Reply#3 - Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:41 AM EDT

      Homesick ~ You speak as if you have never served your country, and to fully understand and speak knowledgeably on a subject a person needs to understand all sides of an issue. Become a soldier, be deployed, make a transition by going back to college, and then come back and give your opinion. These men and women have served their country, willing put their lives on the line for our freedom, and have been through hardships we can't even imagine so my feeling is they deserve all the assistance we can make available for their transition. I hope more colleges follow Rutgers example.

      • 2 votes
      #3.1 - Thu Jul 26, 2012 10:57 AM EDT

      Thank you Seaspray! I am a Vet, and quite frankly before they instituted the post 9/11 GI bill; I and others discharged after the first Gulf war received nothing (Other than the VEAP program money, bout $8000 for school. That program you had got 2$ for every 1$ you put in; so it wasn't a freebie. Needless to say, it got me about 2 semesters worth of education. Now, the vets can actually go all the way and get a degree, which is great! My own son is using that benefit from his Naval service. If you look back on history "Homesick", the returning vets from world war II used their G.I Bill to rebuild this country in the late 40's and 50's; a time of some of the greatest prosperity this country has ever seen. So please don't harsh the vets. If you want to vent about anything...go after the greedy Presidents and Vice presidents of most Colleges and University's and their outrageous salary's as well as the highly paid sports programs and their coaches.....that's the real reason these institutions are raising the tuition.......Not the Vets and the programs to help them. So check you facts sir.

      • 1 vote
      Reply#4 - Sat Sep 8, 2012 11:28 AM EDT
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