Co-authored by Jose Coll, Ph.D., Director of Veteran Student Services and Associate Professor of Social Work at Saint Leo University.
Whether or not there are any "ole" oak trees on campus, hundreds of colleges and universities are waving their Yellow Ribbons proudly in support of returning military service members.
These schools have vowed to help prospective veteran students make up the difference from the institution's actual costs and the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill tuition benefit.
This is done largely to show that the institutions care about the returning veterans, while simultaneously ensuring they are an attractive option for this highly sought after group of students.
Military members are resilient, have extensive leadership training, and have a clear background in understanding a mission and how to achieve objectives.
Couple the desire to recruit these individuals with the responsibility to pay back a small portion in return for their dutiful service and it becomes obvious why the Yellow Ribbon Program plays such a vital role in our nation's higher education system.
In a time of economic hardship, meeting financial obligations in full removes one major concern. The problem, however, is too many schools believe their work in embracing veterans begins and ends with the Yellow Ribbon Program.
This is nothing short of a cop-out, and to pretend that this is the only topic worth addressing to support veterans is dangerous. The challenge of ensuring student-success and graduation goes far beyond financial woes.
Veterans differ tremendously from their traditional student peers. When researching different colleges and universities, a veteran should explore schools that offer support services and actively engage their students to ensure success.
At Saint Leo University, we think we understand veterans pretty well. After all, we've been serving them for 40 years. Here are a few things that we have learned over the four decades from thousands of military students who have worked with us.
Faculty members who are also veterans now mentor their students not only on the subject matter of the courses they teach, but on the challenges of meeting academic expectations, managing time, and balancing academics with other responsibilities. They provide an invaluable resource as persons who have successfully made the transition from military to civilian life.
Understanding military norms
It is also important to understand the basics of military culture. Learning military jargon and acronyms can be a challenge, but taking the time to learn them shows a respect and interest in the veterans' background.
These students have put themselves in harm's way so that we may continue to enjoy life as we know it. They should know how appreciative we are. Training programs now educate staff members on the basics of military life.
Local nonprofits and Veterans Affairs facilities provide additional support and are often eager to help any way possible. The key is to offer and provide student-veterans access to these resources, while limiting any barriers that would hinder academic success.
Faculty as academic advisers
Veterans pursue higher education so they can continue to excel in their professional careers. It is mission critical for faculty to take responsibility for good teaching, advising, and mentoring. Faculty must possess a clear understanding of the institution's academic requirements and, if necessary, must guide the student-veterans to the proper resources to meet those requirements.
Veterans already have a solid foundation of traits and skills that will make them effective in the workplace, especially when partnered with a degree in their field.
Putting that package together in the workplace, and in the community, is a powerful dynamic. They have already made a tremendous contribution to our society through their military service, but their potential for greatness at home too often goes untapped.
If more institutions will look at the Yellow Ribbon program as the launch pad for veteran services, graduation rates will rise, and the unemployment levels for our nation's veterans will continue to fall.
Yellow Ribbon schools been given a unique opportunity to go beyond delivery of curriculum and develop comprehensive partnerships that will ensure academic success, employment, social integration, and a sense of purpose in civilian life.
The responsibility to act on that opportunity lies with us.