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Evaluating Barriers and Supports to Military-Connected Students at Your Institution

September 1, 2019 Phillip Olt Assistant Professor

In June 2019, U.S. News & World Report published an article calling for institutions of higher education to better meet the needs of military-connected students. The author, while focusing on elite higher education, brought up four issues that higher education has with serving veterans:

  1. “[They] have designed their infrastructure around 18-year-olds coming directly from high school or a gap year”
  2. “veterans confront attitudes… that can make them feel unwanted and unwelcome”
  3. “[they suspect] that large numbers of veterans will undercut their efforts to foster diversity and inclusion”
  4. “veterans are more likely than traditional students to demand – and thrive – with… innovative teaching methods and learning platforms”

Here, I’d like to ask you to consider your own institution along these four axes. Here are questions to ask in addressing each of the barriers:

  1. How do post-traditional students (all demographics, but also military-connected students specifically) perceive the processes and programming we offer in student affairs? Have we designed these to not just accommodate these post-traditional demographics, but are there specific processes and programming specifically designed for them and put their needs first?
  2. How do faculty and staff perceive military-connected students? Negative attitudes might be that they are baby killers, completely broken, intellectually inferior, or dangerous. How have we educated faculty and staff on both the strengths/contributions of military-connected students and on their challenges/needs?
  3. While military-connected status is legally a protected class, do we embrace their unique perspectives and experiences as contributing to the diversity of campus? How do we highlight this specific group?
  4. If you have online programs, how are you supporting your military-connected students who are enrolled?

A recent open-access article published in the Journal of Veterans Studies highlighted the implementation of the Green Zone Initiative at my own institution (Fort Hays State University). The implementation of the program was designed to “1) to educate faculty and staff members of FHSU on at-risk behaviors of student veterans; 2) to educate faculty and staff members of FHSU on campus, local, and regional resources available to veterans; and 3) to create a supportive, empathetic network for student veterans and their connected military community in need of resources, support, or guidance” (p. 2). The authors (which do not include me) explained the steps to implementation and their evaluation of the program. If you are seeking to better serve your military-connected students, I strongly encourage you to reach out to them to discuss the program and their findings!