03/13/2013 04:21 pm ET Updated May 13, 2013

Preparing Colleges for the Arrival of Vets


In a recent article published by the New York Times, "A Million Strong: Helping Them Through," the author James Dao captured the challenges of many veterans returning to college; addressing the need for greater data and understanding of the challenges faced by those who served.

With the implementation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill in 2009, it is expected that a substantial number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will take this opportunity to attend college. The impending wave of veteran students in the next 5 to 10 years will create a surge in college and university enrollment and administrators, faculty, counselors and staff should be prepared to manage the unique challenges that veteran students face as they transition out of the military and into higher education.

For instance, veteran students often face personal, family, financial and educational challenges, as well as a variety of psychosocial problems. Some student veterans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, mild traumatic brain injuries, combat stress, depression, substance abuse, and are involved in legal issues. These students may be products of horrific wartime experiences and may hold worldviews that reflect their experiences as warriors. Many of these challenges can be minimized if addressed within a comprehensive and veteran-friendly programmatic approach that takes into consideration the veteran student as a non-traditional student who not only brings a unique worldview perspective, but has specific needs that should be considered in order to ensure retention and academic success.

My co-authors and I conducted a survey of more than 350 veteran students to determine student veteran perceptions and needs as they transition from military service into higher education.
The preliminary themes that emerged from this study involved the students' perceptions of:
• The need for a transition course, such as professional writing and refresher courses on basic math/research skills, and a preference for course content delivery via technological mediums.
• The need to expand an active support center and liaison.
• The development of educating about military culture for peers and for professors.
• Most importantly was the notion that the skills learned in the service and/or in combat need to be translated into the civilian world, (i.e., higher education and employment) and that these skills should be seen as strengths by the civilian world and not as detriments.

In a recent report by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), it suggested that universities explore opportunities for veterans to transition successfully such as:
• Work closely with Education Services Officers to ensure resources and collaboration.
• Develop community based resources and collaboration between schools and non-profit.
• Provide training for staff, faculty and students regarding resources and military awareness.

It should also be noted that the expected substantial number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will not all attend a four year college and may seek opportunities of direct employment, certifications, or a vocational trade and therefore, we should explore the opportunities of success beyond academia and do all it takes to support those who served.