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Dr. Jonathan Gibralter

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Veterans Deserve Executive Order Without Implementation Concerns

Posted: 05/21/2012 1:24 pm

On April 27, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members and Spouses.

I appreciate the intent of the Executive Order and the gratitude it attempts to show our troops. Our nation's veterans and military personnel should be able to obtain quality information about institutions and their programs that also take into consideration the particular benefits they have earned.

The Executive Order's text, however, raises a number of concerns for Frostburg State University and similarly scoped American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) institutions regarding implementation. Those at Frostburg who work most closely with our veterans and military members recognize the same technical hurdles that my AASCU colleagues do. Those of us "on the ground" are also most aware of the human issues of the individuals we work with.

I had the privilege of speaking to the members of the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on Wednesday, May 16. I discussed our proud yellow ribbon past and future and the concerns the Executive Order raises for institutions moving forward.

The G.I. Bill has had a significant impact on the history of Frostburg State University, marking the move into our modern era. In early 1945, enrollment in Frostburg State Teachers College had dwindled to 62 students and Frostburg was slated for closure. With the advent of the G.I. Bill, however, enrollment jumped to 272 students in 1946. By 1949, it had grown to 427, a six-fold increase in five years. As the G.I. Bill transformed our nation, it transformed Frostburg, truly marking the beginning of the modern era for our institution.

Since then, Frostburg has continued to evolve as the needs of veterans have changed over the years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, our concern was accommodating the disruption in students' educations, especially if they were drafted mid-year, as well as meeting their educational and other needs upon their return from service.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have necessitated that we undertake similar measures to serve those who served us. In 2012, as Frostburg is not near major military installations, the majority of veterans and active military we serve are connected to our region's National Guard and Military Reserve units. However, our growing online programs, in particular our accredited MBA, are proving popular with military members as they are designed for flexibility. We anticipate that our newly accredited Bachelor of Science in Nursing for R.N.s, also online, will be of value to returning military medical personnel.

The number of veterans we serve varies significantly from year to year, often nearly doubling or dropping by nearly half from year to year. This year we are serving 102 veterans, although we are aware of others who have served who chose for one reason or another not to seek benefits or otherwise identify themselves as veterans. This means they may be missing out on services we can provide. Others arrive at Frostburg without having completed the process to become eligible for benefits, which also means they have been unable to take advantage of provisions in the Executive Order, creating a circular problem.

The Executive Order requires the Secretaries to "develop a comprehensive strategy for developing service member and veteran student outcome measures that are comparable across Federal military and veterans educational benefit programs." There is considerably more burden to finding available data for these outcome measures than meets the eye.

First, the federal government does not collect veterans and military student-specific data from institutions. Second, institutions and states vary in their ways of defining veteran and military students based on what data is available. Institutions will inevitably be asked for data that may or may not be possible to obtain.

Even with the data we do have, I know that at Frostburg, complying with parts of the Executive Order will require the expenditure of significant amounts of professional time and effort, far beyond anything currently required by VA or State Approving Agency (SAA) mandates.

Another key concern of Frostburg and AASCU is the creation of a centralized, tracked complaint system. Sending a complaint directly to the agency without first establishing whether an individual has already attempted to resolve their complaint with a university or college's veterans' affairs office or with SAA representatives is a concern. Too often complaints rise to the highest level of attention when the resolution resides at the local level.

Many of the measures presented in the Executive Order are already in place at Frostburg and within the State of Maryland. Others would require only closer coordination among departments, which can and will be achieved. Frostburg is already in high compliance with VA and SAA mandates, evidenced by our Veterans Affairs Office being on the lowest frequency of SAA and VA audits due to our excellent performance on all previous audits.

Frostburg State University and our peer institutions are willing and very eager to continue meeting the needs of our military members and veterans as well as their families. Our experience is that these returning military become solid students and campus leaders.

I can only hope that we can show our gratitude to our service members by doing everything we can to facilitate their participation in the educational process. It is our honor to serve them.

 
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