By Thomas B. Steen, PhD, Passport State Facilitator
Recently in Orlando, three of us “Passporters” participated in the United States’ largest gathering of student veterans. The Student Veterans of America’s (SVA) national conference is held annually to provide support and advice for students currently serving in one of the U.S. branches of service and for students who have completed their service. The basic aim of the SVA is to help military and veteran (M/V) students find quality educational opportunities and help them solve the particular problems that this group typically faces at our colleges and universities. Our team—Russ Chavez, Tony Flores, and I—had a wonderful chance at the conference to meet a large number of both veteran and military college students, as well as college and university administrators who work with M/V students.
We were there because many of you have expressed interest in reaching out to M/V students and, hopefully, attracting them to your institutions. As you probably know, the number of veterans is significant (about 4.1 million post-9/11 veterans now), and they come to higher education with substantial support-in-hand in the form of GI Bill benefits. Since most states are experiencing or anticipating a decrease in their traditional college-potential enrollees, reaching out to M/V students makes a lot of sense for institutions.
Interstate Passport Network (Network) institutions have a great deal of potential to connect with and serve M/V students. By taking advantage of the built-in collaboration that the Network provides, member schools and systems can develop procedures to attract and support past and current service members who want to enroll and earn degrees. A student who is currently in-service can earn a Passport and move on to the next post without needing to repeat general education requirements at the next college. Service members seeking promotion can use a Passport as a catalyst en route to the bachelor’s degree, either at the same institution or a different one in the Interstate Passport Network. Veterans, and their dependents, can take advantage of the benefits of the GI Bill to earn a Passport. Younger veterans, who went into service right after high school, can get a boost toward earning associate’s degrees at Network member institutions by completing the general education work in the Passport Block and also using their Passports to transfer to bachelor’s degree studies. Other veterans who have completed some college work, either before or during service, may be able to “get a leg up” by earning a Passport, thus decreasing time to degree.
As readers know, Interstate Passport was designed to help college students achieve success by simplifying procedures and reducing added general education requirements and unnecessary repetition of courses. The special focus of Interstate Passport is making transfer smoother and more successful for students. This is especially important for M/V students who transfer frequently due to deployments, assignment changes, and promotions. In that sense, Interstate Passport has much to offer the military-connected student, and it has much to offer to institutions that see themselves as military-friendly.
Some institutions may worry that M/V students may take more effort or lack the skills and knowledge to take on college work. However, the opposite is true. Veteran students achieve average higher GPAs than traditional students (veterans average GPA 3.35 vs. 2.94 for traditional students). Most veteran students have had a broader range of life experiences, are more likely to have experience in positions of responsibility and have worked in more diverse settings and with greater diversity of people than the college students who go directly from high school into college and have not done military service. With this level of potential for academic success and this wide experience, M/V students are surely worth the effort to reach out to and recruit to enroll in Interstate Passport Network institutions.
All of us in higher education today are looking for ways to strengthen and expand our student bodies. Reaching out to M/V students can be an excellent way to add both diversity and quality to the campus. M/V students come ready to study and ready to pay, and they clearly have the potential to be successful students. Interstate Passport Network institutions are uniquely positioned to meet the needs of M/V students. Network members make it easy to work with these students—Interstate Passport is in place, makes transfer smooth, and provides a success-oriented means to complete degrees on time…..something that all students need in today’s world.
Russ Chavez and Tony Flores direct veterans’ affairs offices at their institutions: Chavez at South Dakota State University and Flores at Utah State University. Steen is a consultant to Interstate Passport staff. All are members of the Interstate Passport Network’s Military and Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee.