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What Makes a School Military Friendly?
10 ways schools can help military and veteran students achieve their academic and career goals.
By Dr. Thomas M. McGovern, President of Fisher College and U.S. Army veteran 

More than 2 million service members have been deployed under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) since 2001. Many of these service members are now returning from active duty in search of homes, jobs and an education. As a result, colleges and universities are working harder than ever to meet veterans’ postsecondary education needs. Some colleges have made great improvements in supporting veteran and active service members since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was implemented in 2009, while others still have a long way to go. Therefore, it is important for service men and women to do their homework when choosing a college that will best meet their needs.

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Maximizing Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits
For many military students, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the main reason for beginning or continuing their postsecondary education. To receive the maximum benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veteran and active service members must select a college that understands the challenges presented by the bill and has the expertise to manage the benefits it offers. In addition to assisting military students with understanding and leveraging the Post-9/11 GI Bill and its provisions, colleges should provide additional accommodations for veteran and active service members. Here are a few things to look for: 

1) On-Campus Resources: Military Friendly Schools offer on-campus resources to make learning about and utilizing Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits as easy as possible for veteran and active duty service members. As stated in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, “The vast array of funding possibilities illuminates the need for institutions to have a point person or office that can work with service member complexities.” It is advised that military students seek out this individual or office to learn about the benefits available in order to maximize their college experience. 

2) Yellow Ribbon: A qualified college will help military students utilize programs like the Yellow Ribbon Program. This program is a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that is designed to help students avoid up to 100 percent of the out-of-pocket tuition and fees that may exceed GI Bill tuition benefits. Schools should help veteran and active service members receive additional funds through this provision without additional charges to the student’s entitlement. By helping military students navigate processes and utilize benefits like the Yellow Ribbon Program, colleges can streamline the administrative aspects of degree programs for these students. 

3) Credit: Many Military Friendly Schools accept College Level Examination Programs (CLEP) and/or DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST) exams for credit, and many will accept military training and experience for credit through the American Council on Education (ACE). 

4) Financial discounts: Most also offer military students benefits such as tuition discounts; in-state tuition without residency requirements; and fee-waived applications. 

5) Flexibility: Military Friendly Schools tend to offer flexible schedules through evening, weekend, and online courses; and reenrollment without penalty for military students who are called to active duty. 

6) SOC Degree Network System: Military Friendly Schools are often part of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Degree Network System, an organization that works to provide educational opportunities to military students who, because of frequent relocation, have difficulty completing their college degrees. 

7) MyCAA: These colleges may also participate in the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA), a program that provides up to $4,000 (over two years) of financial assistance for military spouses pursuing degree programs, licenses or credentials that lead to employment in portable career fields. 

8) Relevant Degree Options: Relevant degree options are increasingly important to veteran and active service members. Therefore, colleges looking to cater to these individuals should offer two- and four-year degree options in areas such as management, leadership, and public administration. Additionally, these degree options should be made available on a flexible schedule through day, night, and online courses. Colleges that understand the difference between traditional day students and military students will make allowances and build curriculums around the desires and needs of their veteran and active duty service members. 

9) Career placement: This is one of the most important aspects of a military student’s education. The transition from academic to civilian life is as critical to military students as the transition from military to student life. Colleges must acknowledge this process and provide the necessary support through internship opportunities, access to career counselors, and a network of Military Friendly Employers. 

10) Community Connections: Colleges should also have experienced veteran advisors and counselors on staff who can help liaise with Local Veterans Representatives (LVRs) for career placement. By leveraging their business and community connections, Military Friendly Schools can effectively make the transition for military students into the work force as seamless as possible. 

The provision of these benefits clearly demonstrates a college or university’s commitment to military students.  

Dr. Thomas M. McGovern, President of Fisher College, served in the U.S. Army from 1968-1971. He is an educator, corporate trainer, and management consultant with more than 30 years of experience. 

 

Post-9/11 GI Bill Challenges VA, Schools

The implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill created many challenges for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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According to a 2011 report by the RAND Corporation and the Lumina Foundation for Education on behalf of the American Council on Education, issues with the Post-9/11 GI Bill included delayed or erroneous processing and payment of claims, which is hoped to improve as the VA modernizes its claims system infrastructure.

These complications are attributable to the complexity of this version of the GI Bill compared to previous versions, such as the 1984 iteration known as the Montgomery GI Bill.

While the VA is making strides to improve its claims processing infrastructure, colleges are also working to adapt to the changes presented by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The administrative burden

of monitoring GI benefits has caused college administrators to report a workload increase of 50-200 percent since the bill was implemented, according to the RAND study. Reasons for increased workload were cited as: 

(1) Managing a 35-100 percent increase in total GI Bill enrollments.

(2) Familiarizing staff with new benefit details and a new certification software system.

(3) Working with the student accounts office to ensure that the institution received the correct tuition payments and to troubleshoot payment errors with the VA.

(4) Resubmitting enrollment verifications to the VA each time a student added or dropped a course.

(5) Assisting students in understanding their benefit options. 

To manage the increased workload, colleges have added staff and rely on VA work-study students when possible. Some colleges have also applied for grant money to fund additional veteran-related staff positions. 


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