Serving Military Veterans
Hundreds of military veterans enroll in Kentucky colleges each year. These students are typically older, have to work while in college to support themselves or their families, or have physical or mental health conditions incurred during service. Because of these issues, student veterans are at a higher risk of dropping out.
At the Council's Kentucky Student Success Summit this week in Louisville, a panel of military students provided their insights as to how campuses could improve existing services, as well as how some campus culture changes could improve their overall college experience.
— GEARUP Kentucky (@GEARUPToday) April 4, 2017
Although the GI Bill provides an education stipend, military students struggle with financing housing close to campus and basic living expenses. This is especially a concern for those with children or with a spouse in a low-paying job. Many must work part-time to full-time jobs to support themselves or their family. The panelists felt that campuses could improve advising and mentoring to address stressors that could affect their ability to stay and succeed in school.
Feeling "out of place"
One concern reiterated several times was "being treated like a traditional student when I'm not one." Military students felt that faculty have a "one-size fits all" approach to dealing with students.
#kystudentsuccess: "We aren't another kid. Don't talk to me like a kid, but as a man." Many vets need faculty respect, not condescension.
— CPE News (@CPENews) April 4, 2017
This was a de-motivator for most of the panelists. They felt that their ages and maturity levels, as well as their vast experience, are often ignored. They also pointed out that many veterans are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder - either diagnosed or not. This makes many sensitive to certain questions about their service or the mention of any atrocities they have witnessed.
They recommended that campuses look into professional development programs that instruct faculty as to how to best work with military students. They felt that faculty, once informed and supportive, could shape a campus climate that is more responsive to and respectful of their needs.
They also pointed out that, in many cases, the campus building for military students is located "on the outskirts" of the campus. They felt this wasn't convenient, and it made them feel a little isolated from the campus community. In addition, they expressed the need for a sense of community among military student peers, preferably in a physical location.
#kystudentsuccess: After serving in such large groups, vets attending college need a sense of place & community among other military.
— CPE News (@CPENews) April 4, 2017
When the majority of military students enroll in college, they are approaching it without exposure to K-12 college access programs. Many enlisted straight out of high school, without a thought of talking to a high school counselor about college. This left them overwhelmed as to what they should do to go to college and the services available to them during the transition. Panelists felt that a more holistic, structured communication plan with military students would help not only during the transition to college, but also throughout their college experience.
Career advising/understanding how courses transfer
When faced with choosing their "life after military," many panelists were overwhelmed at selecting careers that would work best with their prior education and skillsets. They pointed out that coming from the intensely structured military environment to civilian life is a very stressful and disorienting experience. They felt deciding "what to do with the rest of my life based on what I've already done" without help seemed too big a task.
They recommended that campus advisors provide guidance that links degrees to careers, and explains how to get the "most bang out of our prior coursework." The panelists felt that military students, especially, have a lack of understanding as to the financial ramifications that choosing the wrong degree could have. They said that better transfer and financial advising would help.
Given their discipline and prior education, military students are a great asset to Kentucky's campuses. With the support of faculty and campus staff, a good college experience can transform them into stellar students and Kentucky's future leaders. In addition to respect for their service, our campuses should give thought to improving military student services to shape their career - and continued - success.