WMU on short list of schools offering exemplary service to vets

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Photo of ROTC students.

WMU is ahead of the curve in student services for veterans.

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University is the only school in Michigan singled out by the Obama Administration as one of the nation's colleges and universities that are "leading the way" to foster postsecondary educational opportunities and dramatically improve employment outcomes for returning service members.

An announcement Aug. 12 by the U.S. departments of Education and Veterans Affairs identified schools across the nation that have adopted a set of strategies called 8 Keys to Success that are viewed as best practices for serving veterans. The announcement by the two departments included a list of 250 schools in 25 states that already have adopted the recommended strategies. While some states boast dozens of such schools, only WMU was singled out in Michigan as an institution that is embracing those strategies designed to lead to success for student veterans.

Best practices for serving veterans

The keys to success were first outlined by President Barack Obama during an Aug. 10 speech at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention. In their announcement, the two agencies reiterated the president's praise for colleges already on board as well as his challenge to other colleges and universities to become part of a nationwide network that will provide better coordination with government agencies, a uniform set of data tools and an early alert system aimed at student veterans.

"We're announcing what we call '8 Keys to Success'—specific steps that schools can take to truly welcome and encourage our veterans," Obama said in his speech. "...today I'm calling on schools across America to join us in this effort. Let's help our veterans get that degree, get that credential and compete for the high-skilled jobs of tomorrow."

To help draft the 8 Keys to Success, the Department of Education convened more than 100 experts to review approaches that could be scaled and replicated to foster veterans' success on campus and via distance learning. A wide range of stakeholders participated in the discussions, including nonprofit organizations, foundations, veterans service organizations and, importantly, veterans who had recently completed postsecondary education in a range of disciplines. Best practices learned from existing programs provided the foundation for the keys to success, specifically best practices from the Department of Veterans Affairs' highly successful VetSuccess on Campus programs.

8 Keys to Success

  1. Create a culture of trust and connectedness across the campus community to promote well-being and success for veterans.
  2. Ensure consistent and sustained support from campus leadership.
  3. Implement an early alert system to ensure all veterans receive academic, career and financial advice before challenges become overwhelming.
  4. Coordinate and centralize campus efforts for all veterans, together with the creation of a designated space (even if limited in size).
  5. Collaborate with local communities and organizations, including government agencies, to align and coordinate various services for veterans.
  6. Utilize a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information on veterans, including demographics and retention and degree-completion statistics.
  7. Provide comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff on issues and challenges unique to veterans.
  8. Develop systems that ensure sustainability of effective practices for veterans.

WMU and two partner institutions, Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Kellogg Community College, have served as a VetSuccess on Campus site since April 2012, when Congressman Fred Upton announced a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to locate a VetSuccess on Campus program in southwest Michigan—the agency's first such program in Michigan.

In addition to the VetSuccess program, WMU has a number of other support initiatives in place for veterans, including:

  • A mini GI bill, in place since 2007, to cover tuition for an initial semester of enrollment, making it easy for a vet to transition quickly from active service to student life
  • A residency policy that recognizes veterans and their families as Michigan residents
  • An active campus veterans association
  • A special advocacy office aimed at helping veterans and active-duty National Guard members transition in and out of academic life.