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ASU continues to be lauded for its work with veterans, having been named a “Military Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs magazine in 2013 for the fourth consecutive year. ASU also ranked among the top 15 schools nationally in the Best for Vets: College 2013 list published by Military Times Edge magazine.
Two of the eight keys to success suggest that schools ensure support from campus leadership, as well as centralize campus services for veterans in a designated place, such as the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, said Steven Borden, the center’s director and retired Navy Captain.
“ASU leaders demonstrated vision and understanding in creating the center as a place to welcome veterans on campus,” he said. “They foresaw a growing enrollment of vets as a result of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and anticipated their particular needs re-entering academic life.”
In fact, that enrollment has more than doubled since the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect in August 2009. Currently, ASU has more than 3,000 veterans and dependents enrolled, with 2,000 of them using the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Once on campus, veteran students encounter a whole new world, including a complete change of culture in dress, language and daily routine, Borden explained.
“The biggest challenge that vets face is the loss of military structure that encompassed almost every aspect their lives – 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “It even extended into their social lives, where they associated with people based on their rank and title.”
According to Borden, ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center is the starting point for students who self-identify as veterans during the admission process. This triggers the communication flow with center staff and VSOC employees to ensure that veteran students receive academic, career and financial advice before any challenges facing them become overwhelming – another one of the federal government’s recommendations.
“We try to put things in place that help them adjust to being a college student and navigate the new culture,” he said. “For example, ASU is an original site for the ‘Vet Success on Campus’ program, a partnership with the VA that is a tremendous asset. It’s also important for us to network with other veteran organizations. All of them bring something to the table that builds a better safety net for these individuals.”
ASU not only collaborates with community organizations and government agencies, as the “8 Keys” recommend, but its veterans center also works to connect ASU veteran students with each other. Designed just for them, Student Success for Veterans (LIA 294) is an ASU course aimed at forging positive relationships among a small network of veterans. Their common goals include academic success, university integration, resource management and mutual support, as they transition to student and civilian life. Interested veteran students should contact Borden at Steven.Borden@asu.edu.
The legacy of the center’s namesake, Pat Tillman, also looms large for veterans seeking their degrees at ASU and sets an important example of what they can achieve, Borden explained.
“The Tillman legacy is very powerful,” he said. “As a student, athlete, leader and soldier, Pat embodied all of the qualities you look for in an individual and he continues to serve as an inspiration. Our veterans may be doing things in a different order, becoming students after they serve, but they still have Pat’s benchmark of excellence to guide them.”
Borden said the same characteristics that translate into “mission accomplishment” for the military – good work ethic, strong character and trustworthiness – can also mean success for veteran students: “If we can get them to see their degree completion as a new mission, they’re halfway there.”
A list of more than 250 community colleges and universities working to implement the “8 Keys to Success” is available at http://www.ed.gov/veterans-and-military-families/8-keys-success-sites. A fact sheet of Obama Administration programs supporting veterans, service members and their families in higher education can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/08/10/fact-sheet-obama-administration-s-work-honor-our-military-families-and-v.