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.

Living expenses
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.

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.

Better communication
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.

Each quarter, Kentucky's public institutions submit newsletters featuring the good things happening on their campuses. Below are the submissions for March/April 2017.

  • Association of Kentucky Colleges and Universities
    Highlights include: New AIKCU report showing return of AIKCU institutions to Kentucky economy; student interns working in Frankfort; and speaker for AIKCU conference .
  • Eastern Kentucky University
    Highlights include: Study of free-roaming horses; faculty assist Baptist Health in Lexington; and EKU awarded incentive check from Large Commercial Demand Conservation Program.
  • Kentucky Community and Technical College System
    Highlights include: Work Ready Skills program.
  • Kentucky State University
    Highlights include: Student involvement in local soup kitchen; Dr. Marcia Young Cantarella speaks during Living Legends Convocation Series; and “America’s Got Talent” finalists Linkin’ Bridge.
  • Morehead State University
    Highlights include: Morgan to become president; Posters-at-the-Capitol; and faculty awards/appointments.
  • Murray State University
    Highlights include: Institute of Engineering celebration; College of Education and Human Services grant; and faculty accomplishments and honors.
  • Northern Kentucky University
    Highlights include: Partnership with UK and St. Elizabeth Healthcare; NKU athletics accomplishments; and nurse anesthesia program.
  • University of Kentucky
    Highlights include: Letter from the president; Bystander Intervention program; and new diversity vice president.
  • University of Louisville
    Highlights include: Letter from the president; dentistry clinics; and law school partnership.
  • Western Kentucky University
    Highlights include: Ransdell named President, CEO of Semester at Sea program; Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame inductees; and Summer Early Entry program.