By Former Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.)
Our bravest citizens wear our nation’s uniform and enlist in the Armed Services. They face many harsh realities both at home and abroad, making sacrifices for the good of our nation – and they ask nothing in return. Disproportionately, they suffer the consequences of a stagnant economy, which has made finding high-quality jobs difficult.
I believe we can and must do better; therefore, several months ago, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) convened a Blue Ribbon Taskforce to ensure that every service member, veteran and family member utilizing their earned, postsecondary education benefits are provided with the quality education to which they are entitled at every institution of higher education.
Because military and veteran students have earned their benefits while defending our freedoms and liberties, the responsibility of postsecondary schools to ensure they are gaining the maximum return on their education investment is particularly important. That means understanding those serving in the military or who have completed their service are oftentimes non-traditional students with concerns outside the classroom, such as children and families, part- or full-time employment, even disabilities incurred while in uniform.
Since more than 325,000 veterans, their spouses and dependents choose private sector colleges and universities to gain training and skills, we felt it was important to convene a Blue Ribbon Taskforce composed of institutional leaders of campus military programs, state leaders, and representatives of Veteran Service Organizations who served as special advisors with the sole purpose of establishing a set of best practice recommendations.
The recommendations included in the report broadly address full transparency and accuracy of information in the recruitment and enrollment process; Institutional commitment supporting the military and veteran students’ academic needs; Appropriate student services reflecting the numbers and needs of the military and veteran student population; and Pursuit of outcomes data related to retention, degree completion, and other metrics for an institution’s military and veteran students, enabling institutions to learn and improve services in the future.
Relating to consumer information, enrollment, and recruitment, the taskforce recommends that colleges and universities provide students with accurate and complete information, as well as in-depth financial counseling so students fully understand all financial obligations. The taskforce also recommended that institutions take steps to develop appropriate recruiting policies, sound enrollment practices and tailored orientation programs.
The recommendations also suggest that colleges and universities actively support and promote programs and services tailored to the needs of military and veteran students. Specifically, the best practices identify good personnel practices, including faculty and campus-wide staff training on the specific needs of military and veteran students, as well as resources that are available to assist these students and their families.
The taskforce’s recommendations emphasized student services to ensure military and veteran student success. Bolstered by recent studies and anecdotal information, there is a large amount of evidence that services such as student veteran centers and academic counselors for the military are extremely beneficial. All institutions of higher education should strive to provide tailored student services to maximize military and veteran students’ opportunities to succeed.
Finally, the taskforce advises that institutions of higher learning electronically track the success of military and veteran students. Using metrics such as persistence and degree completion, institutions can determine program effectiveness, as well as areas in need of improvement and ways to better serve military and veteran students in order to ensure their success.
It is now more important than ever for all postsecondary institutions to meet a higher standard for America’s military and veteran students. Career-oriented institutions are proud to be educating America’s heroes. They are the backbone of our country, and have earned the very best postsecondary education and services we can provide.
Former Rep. Gunderson from Wisconsin is president and chief executive officer of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU).