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 GIBill.com 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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