When I first walked onto a community college campus not even a year after my last foot patrol in Iraq, I made several assumptions about the school. I assumed there would be adequate support when it came to filing benefits paperwork. I assumed the quality of my education would be high, and that I could transfer my credits to any university without any issues.
I was lucky with my assumptions. My credits transferred to a private university, and while the Veteran education reps at the school weren’t always on point, they made an effort.
Unfortunately, some schools take advantage of those assumptions by funding or participating in rankings that suggest they are military or Veteran friendly, often with questionable criteria and unclear standards.
Some schools touting their spots on proliferating lists of “military friendly” colleges found in magazine guides and websites have few of the attributes educators commonly associate with the claim, such as accepting military credits or having a veterans organization on campus. Many are for-profit schools with low graduation rates.
In the first two years of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, $4.4 billion dollars flowed from VA to universities to pay for Veterans education. When that much money is at stake, schools often have a vested interest to attract as many Veterans to their programs as possible.
But some say a rise in recruitment efforts should be coupled with a boost in Veterans resources and programs.
“Schools are businesses,” said Brian Hawthorne, who currently serves on the board of directors at Student Veterans of America. “If they want their business model to include Veterans, they must include services that retain those students.”
It’s hard to argue that bringing in Veterans isn’t a good thing for schools—even with the associated challenges. Diversifying a campus with Veterans means fellow students are exposed to a small segment of society that can feel out of touch with the civilian population.
Meg Krause, the associate director of Veterans Programs at the American Council on Education, says the resources and peer support found on campus can have tremendous impact on how Veterans adjust to life after the military.
“When you look at higher education, you can see an institution that’s perfectly suited to help Veterans transition to civilian life,” she said.
To mischaracterize the amount and quality of Veteran resources on campus in order to appear “military friendly,” then, is to undermine the crucial development period of reintegration. And as we reported yesterday, some schools use administrative staff to control student Vets groups in a bid to leverage the military friendly identity.
So what can you do to protect yourself and ensure your school can adequately support Veterans? Above all else, only trust education benefits resources from VA itself. Our GI Bill homepage, along with the GI Bill Facebook page, offers accurate news and information. There are all kinds of websites that benefit financially from offering questionable information without accountability.
The fact is this: No online tool or website can give you all of the information you need concerning your personalized benefits. The Defense Department’s housing calculator is a good place to start to get an idea for how much you can expect in housing (the 100 percent rate is determined using the school’s ZIP code, at the 2011 rate as an E-5 with dependents). But your Veterans education rep at your school is the only one who can give you a complete picture. There are too many variables and circumstances that may affect your benefits. It’s best to work it out, offline, with a professional. And if you haven’t decided on a school yet, use our resource page to make the best education decision possible.
For many schools and companies, a lot of money is at stake when it comes to securing your hard earned benefits. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality of the situation. To make the best possible decision, you need to arm yourself with quality information. We’ll continue to monitor websites that break faith with the trust of Veterans so you can focus on what’s important: Finishing a degree and making your own way after the service.