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Key considerations when identifying a military-friendly college or university

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For just about anything we do these days, there’s a list of frequently asked questions that most of us research before pursuing a specific decision or action. However, it’s not often that there is a list of those questions that are NOT asked frequently, but SHOULD BE. With this in mind, below is a list of non-frequently asked questions for military veterans pursuing their degree. These questions will provide you with additional insight into elements of your higher education that you should consider when searching for a “veteran-friendly” college or university.

If you’re wondering where these non-FAQ came from, the National Louis University Veterans Program is working with the Veterans Higher Education Affinity Group to gather representatives from colleges and universities with veterans programs, and identify and share best practices – with the overarching goals of improving student veteran retention, graduation and employment rates. The affinity group meetings are regularly attended by representatives from more than 20 institutions in the Chicago area. This is a diverse group, representing 2-year and 4-year institutions, public and private and for-profits. It was created by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and The Council for Adult and Experimental Learning.

These non-FAQ came from a baseline survey that the Affinity Group conducted among member institutions. The initial research data showed that there are several other very important elements, not always discussed, that make a strong, military-friendly institution.

Below are some key questions to consider when selecting a military-friendly institution.

10 Most Important Non-FAQs When Selecting a Military-Friendly College or University:

  1. Does the institution offer a support program to ease the transition into college?
    College life is an enormous change from life in the military. There is a tremendous amount of structure and regiment in the military. In civilian life, that same order does not exist. Veterans-focused support systems are designed to alleviate obstacles that often pose challenges to successful outcomes. Institutions with veterans-focused support systems produce persistent graduation and employment outcomes.
  2. Does the institution offer financial advising and support for veterans that can ensure they understand and are taking full advantage of the GI Bill?
    Many prospective military students do not know the details of the GI Bill, which could lead to issues with payments, or the inability to maximize their benefits.
  3. Does your institution have a flexible registration policy for student veterans?
    Registering for classes is a complex process, sometimes complicated by the VA’s benefits system. Programs like priority registration enable military students to secure their class seats early, and allows for prompt certification of classes, resulting in faster processing of benefits.
  4. Does the institution participate in the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program?
    This Yellow Ribbon Program allows institutions of higher learning (degree granting institutions) in the United States to voluntarily enter into an agreement with VA to fund tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate. The institution can contribute up to 50% of those expenses and VA will match the same amount as the institution. For example, NLU’s 2013-2014 participation will cover 100% of tuition charges beyond the $19,198.31 annual cap for an unlimited number of students. Many military students do not know what the Yellow Ribbon program does, which enables them to maximize their benefits when choosing a school.
  5. Does the institution adhere to the minimal guidelines provided by the American Council on Education (ACE) to offer college credits for military transcripts, without adding any of its own guidelines that may restrict credits received for said training?
    Many prospective military students are unaware that they can receive credits for their military transcripts. Advertising this to student veterans, and maximizing the amount of college credits they can receive for their military training allows them to avoid having to take unnecessary classes, saving them time and money.
  6. Does the institution employ staff members who work exclusively with affairs concerning military students?
    Many institutions do not have any staff members whose responsibilities are exclusively with military students’ affairs. Military students on the whole typically make up a small percentage of most student bodies. Institutions like NLU, that have dedicated career development, academic support and financial aid specialists, and exclusively focus on Veterans increase military students’ inclusion.
  7. Does the institution employ at least one veteran on faculty/staff who is regularly and actively engaged in working with military students’ affairs?
    Having a veteran on staff gives military students someone to relate to, who can “speak their language.” This person can serve as a mentor, and help make college less foreign.
  8. Do student veterans have the ability to re-start easily if they are forced to stop taking classes for an extended period of time?
    Many deployed military students are in parts of the world where they can be cut off from the Internet due to a variety of reasons. Ensuring that these students can put their classes on pause is only fair.
  9. Are opportunities for professional or student engagement created for student veterans through institutional partnerships with government, community, or veterans organizations (i.e.: Veteran-specific internships, V.A. work-study, etc.)?
    College isn’t just about classes. The more connections and opportunities that military students have access to, the more likely they are to succeed.
  10. Does regular cross-departmental communication occur on issues relating to student veterans (i.e.: A working group)?
    Navigating the bureaucracy of college services is a nightmare for any student. In order to smoothly and effectively serve military students, and to ensure that they aren’t given the “run around,” the different departments of student services must be on the same page.

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