KC Spotlight: What does “Military Friendly” Really Mean?


Author
Dr. Phillip A. Olt, Veterans KC Representative

Published
March 14, 2019


During the summer of 2018, I moved from Wisconsin to Fort Hays State University in Kansas to accept my new position as Assistant Professor of Higher Education Student Affairs. At my previous institution, I was the primary point of contact for military-connected (MC) students, and now at FHSU, I work with the Military Friendly Committee and co-sponsor the Student Veterans Association.

With the turn into 2019, the time again came for the influx of email reminders to fill out the Military Friendly Survey, and so I began to reflect—“What does being ‘Military Friendly’ really mean?” For those who aren’t familiar, G.I. Jobs formerly ran a proprietary system to evaluate postsecondary institutions for how friendly they were to MC students, and then they published that in magazines and websites promoted to U.S. service members around the world. In 2017, they settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations of pay-to-play within the military friendly rankings. However, Military Friendly rankings continue on, and the responsible individuals for reporting institutional data scramble at the start of each year to gather the necessary information. Though the criteria for basic recognition are low, many institutions heavily promote their Military Friendly badge on websites and through social media. Coming full circle now on this conversation, “What does being ‘Military Friendly’ really mean?”

I am concerned that gaining designation as Military Friendly has become little more than virtue signaling in an attempt to attract non-traditional students (and their G.I. Bill dollars), especially as the population of traditionally-aged students declines. Does the Military Friendly survey actually cause institutions to pursue serious change for the purpose of serving MC students better? Perhaps at some institutions, but that is not something I have directly observed. Rather, I’ve seen something more akin to Campbell’s Law. Campbell (1976) famously proposed that, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor” (p. 34).

Now, I’d like to come back to my original question a third time with a new emphasis—“What does being military friendly really mean?” Stripping this question of its rankings and marketing connotations, what does it mean to be friendly to MC students? Here are some components that I think of:

  • Providing designated spaces and unique student affairs programming
  • Adequately staffing support services, including mental health counselors specializing in veterans, PTSD, TBI, etc.
  • Being flexible with MC students when education benefits run into hiccups (ex. the most recent Veterans Affairs IT issue) and providing interim financial support as necessary
  • Providing flexibility with military transfer credits
  • Studying the unique sub-set of student veterans at their institution
  • Maintaining a service orientation toward MC students in fulfillment of the institutional mission rather than seeing them primarily as a revenue stream

It is important to note here that many of these elements are included in the Military Friendly calculations. However, I think the big difference is in the final bullet point—“Maintaining a service orientation toward MC students in fulfillment of the institutional mission rather than seeing them primarily as a revenue stream.” While the quantified Military Friendly rankings address these and many other practical items, it is relatively easy for institutions to gain and keep recognition (thus providing little incentive to make substantial changes), and Campbell’s Law almost certainly plays out as institutions make themselves look good without actually being so good (as in the recent U.S. News & World Report rankings scandal).

So, let me know pose the question to you—“What does being military friendly really mean?” Then, “How can we propel our institutions further in that direction?” Comment below, or email me at [email protected]!

Reference

Campbell. D. T. (1976). Assessing the impact of planned social change. Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, 7(15), 3-43.


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